Tag: Miracle on Ice


‘Relive the Miracle’ reunion emotional for 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The final 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey player arrived at Herb Brooks Arena at 7:23, seven minutes before the “Relive the Miracle” ceremony began.

Jim Craig was escorted into a ready room by New York State Police. “He made it!” one player exclaimed. The show billed as the first time since 1980 that all living Miracle on Ice players gathered in Lake Placid could go on.

“This is mind-boggling,” team captain Mike Eruzione said. “We came here 35 years ago never thinking or dreaming or believing this thing would happen.”

The scoreboard at a rink formerly known as the Olympic Fieldhouse read USA 4, URS 3, just as it did on Feb. 22, 1980.

The 19 men sat below it, wearing replicas of their white Olympic jerseys and sat on a stage, in elevated wooden chairs, to recall the Lake Placid Games with a moderator.

A few thousand fans filled the arena. Often, they broke into “U-S-A” chants. An American flag draped over section 22.

The chronological ceremony was spliced with video of the Miracle on Ice, the 2004 film “Miracle” and the coach Brooks saying before the Olympics that the U.S. was unlikely to win a medal.

It ended with the No. 20 jersey of Bob Suter being raised amid more “U-S-A” chants. The Wisconsin defenseman was the first member of the team to die after he suffered a heart attack on Sept. 9.

In between, the players joked, more about Brooks than anyone else, the team’s two goalies shared a memorable embrace and Suter’s son, the Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Suter, delivered a touching video message about his father.

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Forward Dave Christian said seeing 18 teammates brought him immediately back to 1980. Craig jetted in after watching his daughter’s final college hockey game, a 5-3 Colgate Raiders loss in Troy, N.Y.

“I’m ready to go out and play the game again,” Christian said.

The players passed microphones on the stage as highlights played on giant raised screens to their left and right, sandwiching an oversized American flag. Nobody spoke more than the captain Eruzione.

The “Miracle” film clips included Brooks’ speech before the Soviet game, of course, but also the scene after a pre-Olympic exhibition against Norway.

The Americans and Norwegians tied, 3-3, a result that disgusted Brooks, who had his players skate from line to line, over and over again, even after the arena’s lights were turned off.

“What was lost in the whole story is we played Norway the next day and beat them 8-0,” Eruzione said (though this website says it was 9-0).

Forward John Harrington regretted leaving at his home a notebook that he bought around Christmas 1979. In that notebook, he jotted Brooks’ sayings that became known as “Brooksisms.”

Craig made it a point to appreciate his backup, Steve Janaszak, who won an NCAA Championship under Brooks at Minnesota in 1979 but was the only member of the U.S. team not to play in the Olympics.

“Steve Janaszak was every bit a part of our team, whether he played one second or not,” Craig said.

Janaszak and Craig, Nos. 1 and 30 sitting on opposite sides of the stage, met at the middle with a hug.

Then, the players began reflecting on the Miracle on Ice. It’s been made to drip with political drama, but, as Al Michaels said on the broadcast, it was manifestly a hockey game.

“I don’t think half of us knew where the Soviet Union was,” Dave Silk joked. “If they asked us about [Mikhail] Gorbachev, we would’ve thought he was a left winger.”

Players said they respected and admired the Soviets rather than hating them.

“It was a matter of keeping the game close as long as we could,” said Mark Johnson, who scored to tie the game at 2-2 and 3-3.

Then, everybody turned to watch Eruzione’s game-deciding goal, assisted by Mark Pavelich, who drove in from Oregon (with a stop in Minnesota) this week, and by Harrington.

“You know, I could probably score this myself,” Harrington joked of the Eruzione goal. “But, as a great teammate of Mike’s, our captain, why don’t I pass it to him and let him make millions in the next 35 years.”

“If the roles were reversed, and you had the shot, it would have been wide and long,” Eruzione retorted.

Then, defenseman Jack O’Callahan spoke up.

“By the way, it’s been way more than millions,” he said.

They joked that a teammate got a piece of Eruzione’s shot and deflected it in. And that Eruzione’s eyes were closed when he shot.

“Open, closed, it didn’t matter,” Eruzione said. “It went right where it was supposed to be.”

The final two minutes of the Miracle on Ice game were played on the giant screens, ending with Al Michaels‘ “Do you believe in Miracles?” call being drowned out by the crowd’s applause.

Finally, Bob Suter’s No. 20 jersey was raised, an honor that son Ryan Suter said gave him goosebumps in a prerecorded video message.

The players filed out after the Star-Spangled Banner played to the backdrop of the video of Eruzione waving his teammates to join him on the podium 35 years ago.

“We still feel like it’s 20 [players],” O’Callahan said, “because Bobby’s up here with us.”

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together

Mike Eruzione, Miracle teammates remember Bob Suter, recall 1980 memories


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — One by one, 15 members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team walked past a white No. 20 USA jersey, took their seats and then reminisced about 35 years ago.

Mike Eruzione assumed his role of captain in a press conference with more questions from fans than media, drawing laughs with stories he’s told hundreds of times in appearances and speeches across the country since the Miracle on Ice. The U.S. beat the Soviet Union 4-3 on Feb. 22, 1980, en route to gold.

What was different on Saturday, and more so what will be different on Saturday night, was that Eruzione cracked jokes among all of his living teammates at the site of their Olympic triumph. That hasn’t happened since the Lake Placid Winter Games.

The team began to gather here on a crisp, snowy day to pay tribute to Bob Suter, the first member of that team to pass away. Suter, a Wisconsin defenseman, died of a heart attack at age 57 in September.

“He did a lot for hockey,” Eruzione said. “We all realize at some point we’re going to move on. But nobody thought Bobby, at 57, would not be with us.”

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Eruzione then lit up the room of about 100 people. The 15 players — four were still on their way, including goalie Jim Craig — were asked if any were visiting Lake Placid for the first time since 1980.

Nobody spoke up. Dead silence. Eruzione cut in.

“Ask the bartenders,” he said. More laughter.

“We are the most immature people that you will ever, ever meet,” Eruzione, whose name means “eruption” in Italian, went on. “You think we’re grown men? Not happening.

“Can you imagine that atmosphere in the locker room when we were playing?”

Several players visited that locker room on Saturday morning. For many, they couldn’t remember where they sat 35 years ago. So small, it’s hard to imagine 20 young men, plus coaches and trainers and all their equipment squeezing in there.

The room shown in the 2004 film “Miracle,” with coach Herb Brooks‘ famous speech, looked luxurious in comparison.

The players were asked what they were thinking before Brooks gave that speech, as they waited to play the Soviets.

“It definitely wasn’t let’s go out and try not to embarrass ourselves,” said Eruzione, who ended up scoring the game winner in the third period, after Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak was infamously pulled by coach Viktor Tikhonov.

“The real story shouldn’t be Tretiak,” Eruzione said. “The real story is why they scored three goals and not six or seven.”

Before the press conference, many team members gathered on a stage at what would normally be center ice at Herb Brooks Arena, formerly the Olympic Fieldhouse where the 1980 Olympic games were played.

“We continue to be amazed that it has carried on and lived on in a lot of respects,” forward Dave Christian said. “It gave people a sense of feeling good. When you think about it, you can’t help but smile.”

It touched the nation, Eruzione said. Sports Illustrated dubbed it the greatest sports moment of the 20th century.

“When the Patriots won the Super Bowl, people in New England are happy,” Eruzione said. “People in Seattle are not. People in California couldn’t care less. When it’s Olympic Games, it’s a nation.”

Neal Broten, who would later score 923 NHL points, most among Miracle players, recalled the pre-Olympic game against the Soviets in Madison Square Garden. The U.S. lost 10-3.

“We were setting them up,” Broten said, eliciting more laughter, before coming down to earth. “If you go on a scale from one to 10, we were two and they were 10.”

Longtime NHL defenseman Slava Fetisov was a young star on that Soviet team. Fetisov recently starred in two documentaries chronicling the Soviet perspective of the Miracle on Ice.

Mike Ramsey, a 19-year-old defenseman on the Miracle on Ice team, remembered Fetisov discussing the Miracle on Ice when they were teammates on the Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1990s.

“You were on drugs,” Ramsey said Fetisov joked, flabbergasted the U.S. looked so different from the 10-3 rout two weeks earlier.

The final laughs Saturday afternoon were about Brooks, who died in 2003, led by Eruzione. The players went back and forth about their favorite “Brooksisms,” the coach’s odd lines that were also used in the “Miracle” film.

“Weave, weave, weave, but don’t weave for the sake of weaving.”

Eric Strobel‘s playing with a 10-pound fart on his head.”

Steve Christoff was playing worse and worse every day, and right now you’re playing like next week.”

“[Brooks’] jokes were terrible,” Eruzione said. “He thought they were funny.”

Later Saturday, the players were scheduled for a reunion ceremony called “Relive the Miracle,” which will climax with Suter’s jersey being raised to the rafters in the 1980 arena.

“It’ll be kind of sad when you see his jersey up there,” Eruzione said.

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together

How the Miracle on Ice reunion came together


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Wayne Gretzky played a small role in inspiring Saturday’s “Relive the Miracle,” the first time all living 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey players will unite in Lake Placid since they won gold.

About one year ago, Gretzky was asked to appear at an event (not in Lake Placid) but had to decline, said Jeff Holbrook, Gretzky’s representative. So, Holbrook found replacements in 1980 U.S. Olympians Mike Ramsey and Dave Christian.

After the event, Holbrook said Ramsey asked if he could find similar opportunities for appearances. That got Holbrook thinking. Hey, the 35-year anniversary of the Miracle on Ice is coming up.

“I started putting all the pieces together,” Holbrook said Thursday while sitting inside Herb Brooks Arena, where the U.S. stunned the Soviet Union 4-3 at the 1980 Winter Games.

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

Holbrook, formerly the Arizona Coyotes executive vice president, bounced thoughts off Gretzky and ran ideas up the NHL flagpole to deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Maybe they could get the team together at an NHL event, such as the Winter Classic. Or have a single NHL team take it over, such as when the Coyotes brought several players to a game last February.

Further along, Holbrook realized it would be best to do it in Lake Placid, where the 1980 Winter Olympics still live outside Main Street window displays and inside, on looped highlights around the hockey arena.

“Having them all together here means a lot more than having them all together in Rochester, or some place,” Holbrook said, conjuring one of Brooks’ lines from the 2004 film “Miracle.” “Coming here probably pushes them over the edge [to want to come], where maybe in the past they wouldn’t have.”

When all 19 living players (of 20 total) gather here Saturday, it’s believed to be their first full reunion since Brooks’ death in 2003 (forward Mark Pavelich reportedly attended the wake but not the funeral). The only other full reunion since 1980 was for an NHL All-Star weekend event in Los Angeles in 2002 (pictured).

Details of Saturday night’s ‘Relive the Miracle’ event

Arranging reunions proved so difficult that not even the honor of lighting the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic cauldron was a 20-for-20 success.

But starting last January, Holbrook began texting, emailing, calling and even meeting face to face with the 20 members of the 1980 U.S. team.

“It wasn’t as easy as sending out an email saying, ‘Do you want to come?'” he joked. “There’s a reason why it hasn’t been done in 35 years.”

In initial player conversations last spring and summer, the impetus was to do this now, while everybody is still alive.

One of the players whom Holbrook spoke with in person was defenseman Bob Suter, at an NHL playoff game last season. Suter was on board for the reunion, but he died of a heart attack in September. Suter’s jersey will be raised to the rafters to climax Saturday night.

“In a weird way, that’s why everyone is here,” said Todd Walsh, the Arizona Coyotes broadcaster who will moderate Saturday night’s chronological look back with the players before an expected crowd of about 5,000. “I think with Bob going, it’s a reminder of everyone’s mortality. That’s just my sense.”

Then there’s the reclusive Pavelich. In addition to Brooks’ funeral, he was also not present for the 2002 Olympic cauldron lighting, according to reports from Salt Lake City.

Holbrook said teammates including Buzz Schneider and John Harrington reached out to Pavelich and, importantly, stayed on him until he committed.

Pavelich was on his way to Lake Placid as of Thursday night, driving with two dogs from Oregon with a stop in Minnesota.

“I think the fact that he is coming I think pushed other guys over the edge to be here, too,” said Holbrook, managing partner of Potentia Athletic Partners. “If it wasn’t Lake Placid, I don’t know if Mark would have come.”

Holbrook, a 13-year-old playing Space Invaders when the Miracle happened, said he’s dedicated one year of his life to making the reunion happen. He also stressed help from his family, co-workers and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) that manages the 1980 Olympic facilities.

“I’ve seen presidents of countries cower in Wayne’s presence,” Holbrook said of Gretzky. “I didn’t think I could ever see anything that elicits that sort of response from people. This is the only thing that really does, to me. When you talk about this to people, they always get the same look on their face.”

The biggest challenge of the endeavor is yet to come, Holbrook said. That’s the event Saturday night, the eve of the 35-year anniversary of the Miracle game.

“Knowing how important it is to people,” Holbrook said. “We can’t screw it up.”

Walsh, who has spent nearly two decades as a Coyotes broadcaster, has butterflies, too.

“I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be up there,” Walsh said, looking down as workers constructed the stage on what is usually an ice rink, in his first five minutes inside Herb Brooks Arena. “I kid you not. I don’t even know what to say.”

Photos: Herb Brooks’ Miracle on Ice items up for auction

Miracle on Ice reunion set for Saturday, ahead of Hockey Day in America


LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The “Relive the Miracle” reunion at Herb Brooks Arena on Saturday night, bringing together all living 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey players to the site of their gold medal for the first time in 35 years, will not be broadcast live.

Perhaps that’s the way it should be. After all, the Miracle on Ice game was first shown on tape delay in the U.S. on Feb. 22, 1980.

Since then, small groups from the 20-man team convened for various appearances, but it’s believed they’ve all been together twice and never in Lake Placid. Some are grandfathers now.

“I guess when I look in the mirror, and I see all the gray hair, I guess time has gone by,” said Mark Johnson, the forward who scored twice in the 4-3 victory over the Soviets.

More about reunion during Hockey Day in America, Sunday at noon on NBC and online

The most well-known names, such as captain Mike Eruzione and goalie Jim Craig, fill their calendars with speaking engagements and events, even in small towns.

This week, Eruzione video chatted with high school students in Monon, Ind., population 2,000. Craig attended a minor-league hockey game in Pensacola, Fla., on Tuesday night.

“It’s never been exploited beyond reasonable means,” said Todd Walsh, the longtime Arizona Coyotes broadcaster who will moderate Saturday night’s event. “It still is in the cradle of what happened that night. It’s never been ruined by American culture. It’s almost untouchable.”

How the 1980 U.S. Olympic team reunion came together

“Relive the Miracle” will recreate 1980 with the players and through pictures and video on a large screen inside Herb Brooks Arena, known as the Olympic Fieldhouse when the U.S. hockey team stunned the Soviets and went on to capture gold.

The event will run chronologically through four segments — “The Journey,” “The Steps,” “The Miracle” and “The Gold.”

It will conclude with the raising of defenseman Bob Suter‘s jersey to the rafters. Suter died of a heart attack in September, becoming the first member of the team to pass away, and in a way helping drive the rest of the players to reunite while they still can. Coach Herb Brooks died in 2003.

“I guess every anniversary has a different meaning,” Eruzione said. “It’s a little bittersweet.”

On Sunday, NBC will celebrate Hockey Day in America with studio coverage on site in Lake Placid on the exact 35-year anniversary date of the Miracle on Ice. The broadcast will start at noon ET, include Olympian interviews and a feature on forward Mark Wells.

Al Michaels, who uttered the famous “Do you believe in miracles?” line on the 1980 broadcast, will have a small role in the weekend’s events.

Eruzione said strangers tell him they remember where they were for four events in their lives — when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, 9/11 and the Miracle on Ice.

“To think that a moment can capture a nation,” Eruzione said.

Eruzione wishes the team could get together more often.

“When we’re together, we’re almost like little kids,” he said. “Very, very immature in our behavior.”

Photos: Herb Brooks’ Miracle on Ice items up for auction

Memories of the Miracle on Ice

Credit: Getty Images

SOCHI – Thirty-four years have drifted by, and I’ll bet every month since I have thought at least once about the Miracle on Ice.

Memories of childhood fade in and out – blurry snippets of playground games and classroom boredom, gasoline lines and Rocky movies, Happy Days sitcoms and disco on the radio – but that one Olympic hockey game, the United States against the Soviet Union in February 1980, stays sharp and colorful and so present it almost feels like I could take a step back and live it again.

We sat in our family room on an old sofa with a couple of springs peeking through, and we stared at a Magnavox 21-inch television that had perpetual static. It was a Friday night. I recall snow. My mother had gone out to play cards, so it was a boys club, with Dad and my two younger brothers sitting there. I was 13.  I knew almost nothing about the game. I knew only that we were in a cold war with the Russians – as boys we would cynically calculate how many times each country could blow up the world with nuclear weapons — and that our U.S. hockey team had no chance to win.

Then Olympic host Jim McKay came on to introduce the game. And behind him, people were screaming, ‘U.S.A! U.SA!” I remember McKay saying that, although the game had already happened, he would not be the one to reveal the score. In retrospect, seeing all those Americans chanting and celebrating probably should have tipped us off.

Instead, I remember my Dad saying: “I wonder if they kept the score close.”

VIDEO: Watch U.S.-Russia (Saturday, 7:30 am ET) live online

The story is so familiar – at least our American version of the story. A driven man named Herb Brooks had come up with a plan to play with the invulnerable Russians. It was actually a plan to BEAT the Russians, but even Brooks was too timid to fully believe such a thing was possible. The Russians had won the previous four Olympic gold medals. And the talk was the 1980 team was the best of them all.

Brooks had famously been the last person cut from the 1960 U.S. hockey team, which in the first version of the miracle on ice, beat the Soviets and won gold in Squaw Valley. He watched that gold medal game with his father, and when it ended Herb Sr. told his son, “Well, I guess the coach cut the right guy.”

This bluntness, bordering on cruelty, infused the son. Herb Brooks Jr. was obsessed with an idea: Americans playing the Russian style of hockey, beautiful, fast and loose, brisk passes, lots of possession time, five attackers moving as one. The style didn’t come naturally to him; Brooks had won three national championships at Minnesota while coaching exactly the opposite style (physical hockey, lots of dumping of the puck and chasing after it). But he was convinced the only way to play with the Soviets was to play their game.

He handpicked a team of fast and skilled young players he believed could adapt. And he drove them relentlessly. He had this drill everyone called “Herbies,” a back-and-forth skating nightmare that left even the best-conditioned players vomiting. The long training camp was a never-ending series of Herbies. One night, after a bad loss, they skated Herbies even after the arena had shut out the lights. And mind games. And threats. And insults. Behind his back, they called him “Ayatollah Khomeini.”

Put it this way: A few weeks before the Olympics he called in his captain and future American sports hero Mike Eruzione and threatened to cut him.

“Did you believe him?” I asked Eruzione.

“Sure I believed him,” Eruzione said. “We were more scared of him than the Soviets.”

Those intense feelings, for some, did not fade until Brooks died in a car accident in 2003. One year earlier, Brooks did not join the team for the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Salt Lake City. He said that he was invited, but he didn’t think it was right to go. “One of them might push me in,” he said, and it wasn’t entirely clear that he was joking.

Related: Catching up with Miracle on Ice icon Mike Eruzione

The first time the U.S. played the Russians in 1980 – 13 days before the Miracle – they lost 10-3 in Madison Square Garden. It was such an insane mismatch that the actual Olympic game seemed pointless.

Al Michaels was in Lake Placid already to call the Olympics for ABC, but he called that game off a television feed to practice. “All I can tell you is that it was a joke,” he says. “The score was 10-3; it looked like 20-0. That score doesn’t do justice to the game. … I think we all believed the Americans were better than that. But the Soviets were SO good.”

Then, maybe that game was where the magic began. Brooks hinted through the years that the Madison Square Garden game was a bit of a setup, that he did not unleash the open style that they had been working on, and that he did not bother trying to settle down his team when they began to panic.

“Have fun,” he had told his team before the game according to Wayne Coffey’s fantastic book The Boys of Winter, and no player could ever remember Brooks using the word “fun” at any other time.

Whether purposeful or not the blowout did two things:

  • It freed the U.S. team to play with abandon in the Olympic game. There is nothing quite like the freedom that goes with having no chance.
  • It made the Soviets wildly overconfident.

The game itself played out like a dream. There were 8,500 fans crowded into the arena in Lake Placid (including seven-time Olympic gold medalist Eric Heiden and M*A*S*H co-star Jamie Farr), many of them armed with giant American flags. It was a gloomy time in America. There were hostages in Iran, round-the-block gas lines, high inflation and an increasingly cold war with the Soviets that would lead to an American boycott of the Summer Games in Moscow.  The entire nation was ready to explode for something good.

The Soviets scored quickly, and the U.S. team tied the game. The Soviets scored again to make it 2-1 when the game’s pivotal play happened. With the first period running out, American Dave Christian hit a slap shot that the Soviet’s great goaltender Vladislav Tretiak uncharacteristically misplayed, allowing the puck to bounce in front. American Mark Johnson slipped through and slapped the puck past Tretiak for the tying goal. There was one second left on the clock.

There was a huge argument then about whether the goal should count – and lost in the argument was the most shocking move of the entire game. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov was so angry about the goal and the way the game was going he removed the great Tretiak from the game. Almost no one noticed it until the start of the next period, when there was a buzz on the American bench.

“Oh my God,” the U.S. players whispered to each other. “They pulled Tretiak.”

It has become popular legend that the pulling of Tretiak changed the whole complexion of the game. And the players do remember feeling a jolt of confidence after it happened. But the reality is that the Soviets utterly dominated the second period, out-shooting the Americans 12-2 and controlling the game more or less for every minute. But the Soviets scored only one goal.

“The way (U.S. goaltender) Jim Craig played in that second period, to me that was the whole game,” Michaels says. “The saves he made that period, some of them were ridiculous. If he lets in even one more goal, it’s 4-2, forget it, the game’s over. But at 3-2, there’s a chance for something.”

Related: ‘Miracle On Ice’ haunts triple champion ex-Soviet goaltender

Then came the miracle. Johnson scored the game-tying goal, and with about 10 minutes left Eruzione took a shot from the slot that beat goaltender Vladimir Myshkin to give the United States 4-3 lead. The final 10 minutes were glorious and agonizing and wonderful as the Soviets peppered away at the American goalie. One shot by Aleksandr Maltsev hit the post. The final two minutes, the Soviets fired wild shot after wild shot.

“We were panicking,” the Soviets’ young defenseman Sergei Starikov would tell Coffey.

And then, at the very end, Al Michaels made the call: “Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

And the American team celebrated wildly. Jim Craig was wrapped in the American flag. The team skated around the rink in disbelief. Flags flapped so hard that the entire arena cooled. Herb Brooks went to tunnel to have his own quiet moment.

And in our little house in Cleveland – like in homes all over the country — we all jumped around like crazy people and did believe.

OK, so that was our point of view. It obviously was different here in Russia. Here, nobody could understand how their great team – the greatest team in the world – could lose to a bunch of American college kids.

“Their team beating our team,” Tretiak would say many years later. “It truly was a miracle. Such a thing will never be repeated.”

Tretiak says that, even then, he could not help but feel admiration for the gritty American team. But he never would understand why he was pulled. “Ask the coach,” he said. Tretiak said he never talked about it with the coach, Viktor Tikhonov. Nobody talked about such things with Tikhonov.

VIDEO: U.S. ready for its showdown with Russia

If Herb Brooks was a fierce leader during his time as U.S. hockey coach, Tikhonov was a dictator. He controlled every aspect of Soviet hockey. He made the players live in barracks 11 months out of the year. He made them play exactly the way he wanted them to play. Many have wondered why the Soviets didn’t remove the goalie, play with an empty net and try to attack 6-on-5 in the final seconds of the game. The answer was simple. Tikhonov didn’t play with an empty net.

To an outsider, Tikhonov was the very picture of what was behind the iron curtain. He was grim and severe-looking and seemingly humorless and unapproachable. He had been given the Soviet hockey team shortly after their won bronze at the World Championships in 1977 – the first time in 15 years they had not won gold of silver. His directive was simple: Fix this.

And Tikhonov did fix it the same way Vince Lombardi built the Green Bay Packers and the same way Bill Belichick built the New England Patriots – that is by controlling every single aspect of Soviet hockey. The American players might have despised Brooks, but Tikhonov was such an overwhelming presence in his players’ lives that such mundane feelings as “like” and “dislike” simply didn’t apply.

“He was cold to us,” Tretiak would say. But Tikhonov – marrying the Old Russian style of speed and rhythm with a certain conservatism he carried naturally – built an almost invincible force. At the 1979 World Championships, the Russians beat Czechoslovakia 11-1, then beat Canada 9-2, they crushed Czechoslovakia again 6-1 to win the gold. The 1980 Olympics looked like they would be easy.

Tikhonov was actually ill during those Olympics, though he would never say a word about it. He would come to regret two things. One, he would regret that he could never quite wake up his team after their 10-3 victory over the United States just before the Olympics.  He told them again and again not to be overconfident, not to take the Americans lightly, not to put too much stock in that game. But he could see that his words weren’t sinking in.  “The players told me it would be no problem,” Tikhonov told Coffey. “It turned out to be a very big problem.”

In truth, even he might have been overconfident, which led to his pulling of Tretiak. He was so angry after the goal right at the end of the period that, he said, he let his emotions get the best of him. Anyway LOSING the game never occurred to him. He pulled Tretiak to send a message to his team but he did not think it would matter in the result. “My blood was boiling,” he would say. “It was my worst mistake. It was my biggest regret.”

The rest of the game played out like a bad dream for the Soviets. They would rather not remember. In 2002, when Vlacheslav Fetisov coached the Russian team, we asked him what he remembered from that game. “I don’t remember,” he said. “That was many concussions ago.”

And Tikhonov would say he never saw the game on film. “I saw it once,” he said. “That was enough.”

* * *

Michaels had no idea how big his “Do you believe in miracles” call had become. This is because – and not many people know this – he stayed around after the call to announce the Finland-Sweden hockey game. He says that he and color commentator Ken Dryden did not even have time to talk about the game before having to focus on the next one. When he left the arena, he walked to the hotel and the street was still buzzing. But he still had no idea.

“I remember somebody came up to me in the hotel later and said, ‘that was so great what you said at the end,’” Michaels says. “And I remember thinking, ‘What did I say?’

For weeks and months after the game, Michaels said he would get letters from people. The letters weren’t only about the call. Many of them were heartfelt, tear-stained; people talked about how for the first time in so many years they were proud to be Americans. After a while, Michaels wondered why people kept sending HIM those letters.

And then it occurred to him: He was the one with an address. After the Miracle game, after the U.S. won the gold medal, the team broke apart. Some went to play in the NHL. Some went back to college. Some went to work. There was no more 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, no organization to how much it meant.

So people wrote instead to Michaels, care of ABC on Sixth Avenue.

“I still have many of those letters,” he says. “They were so heartfelt. I’ve often said, that team made it cool to be patriotic.”

* * *

So the United States and Russia play again Saturday, and it has nothing at all to do with 1980. There is no Soviet Union. There is no cold war. Everyone is a professional. The Russian team features Alex Ovechkin, who in his real life is the biggest sports star in Washington.

But it’s still USA-Russia. And there is a player on the Russian team named Viktor Tikhonov. He’s the great coach’s grandson. He grew up in San Jose – his father Vasili was a San Jose Sharks coach – and he sounds utterly like a California guy. Young Viktor is playing for his father, who died six months ago in a horrible fall while trying to fix a broken window screen in his Moscow apartment.

Viktor says that the tragedy has brought him closer to his grandfather. He knows the reputation of Viktor Tikhonov, the ferocious coach who, after the 1980 defeat, led the Soviet Union to the gold at the next three Olympics. He says that he only knows a kindly grandfather. He says he never asked about 1980.

In fact, young Viktor Tikhonov has also never seen that game. He has refused to see the movie “Miracle” about that game.  When asked why, he shrugs. He’s a Tikhonov. The game that still fascinates America all these years later means something very different to a Tikhonov.

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