Monday, January 4, 2010

Looking back at a miracle

Next month marks the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest underdog victories in sporting history. Of course I speak of the United States hockey team winning gold in the 1980 Olympic games. In looking back through the perspective of time it is truley amazing that this team did.

In winning the gold, the States were up against some solid competition in Sweden, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Finland and especially the Russians. The Swedes were in a somewhat similar predicament as Canada in that many of their better players had turned pro in the NHL and were therefore not eligible for Olympic play. They were without Borje Salming, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. Canada would undoubtedly have challenged for gold if their pros were eligible but they still had young stars in Glenn Anderson and Paul MacLean and future steady NHL defenders Randy Gregg and Tim Watters.

The Swedes would end up winning a somewhat surprising bronze medal and the co-favourites Czechoslovakia would just as surprisingly slip to a fifth place finish due to losses to Sweden and the US in the preliminary round. The Czechs were missing only Vaclav Nedomansky to the pro ranks yet were still stacked with Milan Novy, Jaroslav Pouzar, Miroslav Frycer, Jiri Bubla and the three Stastny brothers. The 7-3 victory by the US over the Czechs in the second game of the tournament was only the first of the huge upset games.

The States really had only a handful of players who would go on to have successful professional careers led by Mark Johnson, Dave Christian and Neal Broten. On defense there was only Ken Morrow and Mike Ramsey that would have sucess in the pros. This squad, who's elder statesman was Mike Eruzione at 25 years old would beat the Soviets, a team of men, a team of "professional" stars.

The Russians were led by Summit series veterans Boris Mikhailov, Valeri Kharlamov, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, Valery Vasiliev and of course Vladislav Tretiak. To this stellar group coach Viktor Tikhonov added future international and NHL stars Alexei Kasatonov, Slava Fetisov, Sergei Makarov and Vladamir Krutov.
The fact that the US beat this squad of stars was, and is simply amazing. The Russians had just the year before embarassed a team of mostly Canadian NHL All-Stars in the 1979 Challenge Cup. This same Russian squad would just over a year after the '80 Olympics go on to once again embarass Team Canada's professionals in the '81 Canada Cup.
There really could be no equivalent to the USA's surprise gold medal in the upcoming 2010 games as there is no real prohibitive favourite or dominant powerhouse. However, if say Belarus were to beat Canada for the gold medal in a jam packed Canada Hockey House (GM Place), it may very well come close.

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