Monday, February 22, 2010
On this date in 1980, the United States Olympic Hockey Team, led by legendary coach Herb Brooks and captained by Mike Eruzione, shocked the world with their stunning 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union.
Today, Eruzione makes appearances as a motivational speaker and is said to have never met a hand he wouldn't shake or a microphone he didn't like.
Eruzione was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts in 1954 and graduated from Winthrop Senior High School in 1972, where he was captain of the hockey team his senior year. Following high school, Eruzione attended Berwick Academy for a year before joining the hockey program at Boston University.
While at BU, Eruzione was a model of consistency and would average 23 goals a season, never scoring less than 21, making the Frozen Four each of his four seasons there. His senior season was his best, with 23 goals and 41 assists for 64 points which allowed him to become BU's all time leading scorer with 208 points.
Importantly, he would also gain valuable international experience by playing for Team USA at both the 1975 and 1976 World Championships.
Little known are the details of Eruzione's hockey career in between Boston University and the 1980 Olympics, as Eruzione would follow his college career with two full seasons with the Toledo Goaldiggers of the International Hockey League.
Eruzione would score 30 goals and 56 assists for 86 points, finishing second in team scoring. He would also contribute 21 points in 17 playoff games as Toledo would capture the prestigious Turner Cup by defeating the Port Huron Flags in seven games in the finals. Eruzione was named the IHL Rookie of the Year following the season.
His second season in Toledo saw Eruzione score another 27 goals and 72 points. He also has six games with the Philadelphia Firebirds on his record with no points scored.
Eruzione became part of the 1980 United States Olympic Team the next season and was named the team captain. In preparation for the Olympics, the team made up of college amateurs with an average age of 22, would play a four month schedule of games against college, minor, pro and national teams, the kind of familiarity and unity modern Olympic teams comprised of professionals thrown together on short notice can only dream about.
Brooks, the final cut from the gold medal winning 1960 USA Olympic Hockey Team, put into place a plan to emphasize speed, conditioning and discipline when taking on the much older and vastly more experienced Soviet team, who, while technically considered amateurs by the letter of the law, were anything but. Brooks also needed a way to unite his club that had the potential for division due to the large numbers of players from either Minnesota or Massachusetts splitting the squad into divisive factions. He chose to do that by challenging his team physically, as he raised their conditioning level, and mentally, as he drove them with his words. The effect brought the team together against a common foe - Brooks.
Just prior to the Olympics, Brooks scheduled a game against the Soviets on purpose, which the Americans famously lost 10-3. Now that they had faced the Soviets once, they could get the awe out of their system should they meet again in Lake Placid.
The games in Lake Placid for the United States began with a come from behind 2-2 tie against Sweden. While not a win, the dramatic goal against favored Sweden with goalie Jim Craig pulled for an extra attacker with just 27 seconds remaining felt just like a win.
A tough looking matchup on paper against Czechoslovakia, a team with future NHLers Jiri Bubla, Miroslav Dvorak, Miroslav Frycer, Milan Novy, Jaroslav Pouzar and Anton, Marian and Peter Stastny, ended with a confidence building 7-3 win for the Americans whose first goal was scored by Eruzione.
The schedule now turned in the United States favor, with easy wins over Norway, again with Eruzione scoring the first American goal, and Romania before a 4-2 win over West Germany to finish group play tied with Sweden at 4-0-1 and a place in the four team medal round and a date with destiny on this date in 1980 with the Soviet Union.
Following the first five game group stage of the tournament, Eruzione was sixth on team scoring (and 25th in the group) with two goals and two assists, behind Rob McClanahan, Buzz Schneider and Mark Johnson with seven points and Mark Pavelich and Dave Christian with five.
With their previous tie against Sweden carrying over into the Medal Round standings, as well as the Soviet's 4-2 win over Finland, the Americans began Medal Round play already down a point to the Soviets in the standings.
The game, which was played in the afternoon but not broadcast on ABC until later that evening, forcing us to listen to the game live on the radio, began with the Soviet's Valdimir Krutov, a future Vancouver Canuck, scoring at 9:12 of the first period. Schneider tied the game at 1-1 on a goal from Pavelich only to have the Soviets move back ahead with a goal at 17:34 from future Calgary Flame Sergei Makarov.
With the second ticking down in the first period, Christian dumped the puck in from beyond the center red line with five seconds remaining in the peroid. Soviet Goaltender Vladislav Tretiak put his pads together and allowed the puck to rebound far in front of him, right to a hustling Johnson who flew in between a pair of defenders, scooped up the puck, put a deke on the flat-footed Tretiak to go around him to Johnson's left and put the puck into the wide open Soviet net with one second remaining in the period. We recall it taking an eternity while listening to the game live on the radio for the goal to be allowed, as there was some question at the time if the goal had come before time expired in the period.
In his anger over the late goal, Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled Tretiak and replaced him with backup Vladimir Myshkin, to the surprise of everyone involved when the Soviets returned to the ice to take the faceoff to complete the first period, having retreated to the locker room in order to pressure the officials into deciding the period had indeed ended.
Despite the high of ending the first period tied at 2-2, the Soviets once more took the lead, their third of the game, with a goal by Alexandre Maltsev just 2:18 into the second period on a power play. With way more than half the game left to be played and three Soviet goals on the scoreboard already, no one could imagine that would be the Soviets final goal of the game.
Craig kept the Soviets off the board for the remainder of the period, despite the outshooting the Americans 12-2, so the third period opened with the Soviets up 3-2 and holding a 30-10 advantage in shots on goal.
Johnson evened the score on the power play just before the halfway point of the third with his second goal of the game at 8:39 when Dave Silk shot towards the net, which was blocked by a defender. Johnson however, pulled the loose puck away from the defender's stick and fired the puck past Myshkin to tie the game at 3-3 and send the fans into a state of delirium.
Just 1:21 later, Eruzione's legacy as a hockey player would be sealed. Schneider would dump the puck into the Soviet zone where it would be deflected by Myshkin to his right. The puck would then be weakly moved toward a teammate by a Soviet defender under pressure from an American forechecker. Before it could reach the other Soviet, the puck was intercepted by Pavelich who somehow got the puck back into the center of the zone just above the faceoff circles, despite facing and moving the opposite direction while falling down, where it was corralled by Eruzione (which is Italian for "eruption"), who squared himself to the net and, using Vasily Pervukhin as a screen, fired the puck past Myshkin from 25 feet out, sending the arena into pure bedlam and himself into the record books with the most famous goal ever scored in hockey history.
The remainder of the game was an agonizing ten minutes that seemed to last 60, as Craig made save after save against the Soviet attack. The Americans kept to Brooks game plan, with short shifts using all four lines, putting their conditioning to the use Brooks envisioned months earlier against the veteran Soviets.
Finally, the crowd changed their chants from "USA! USA!" to "TEN! NINE! EIGHT! SEVEN! SIX! FIVE! FOUR! THREE!" at which point broadcaster Al Michaels delivered his famous line: "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" as the game ended and the players burst into cheers and hugs, while Brooks vanished up the corridor and out of view.
In cold, hard numbers, the win gave the USA three points in the standings to the Soviet Union's and Sweden's 2 points and Finland's 1, following the Swedes and Finns 3-3 tie the same day, setting up the United States final game against Finland. Assuming the Soviets would beat Sweden, which they did 9-2, a US win over Finland was still required for the Americans to win gold outright.
Finland led the final game of the tournament 2-1 after two periods, but after a furious Brooks warned the team during the final intermission that "If you lose this game, you will take it to your f***ing grave." He then walked almost all the way out of the room before turning around and repating "To your f***king grave." Properly motivated, the team came out and scored goals by Phil Verchota, McClanahan and Johnson to win the game 4-2 to capture the gold medal and set off a new round of celebrations having successfully completed not just a seven game tournament, but a journey that began months earlier, as Brooks transformed them from college kids into Olympic champions.
It was the last game Eruzione would ever play.
Despite the game against Finland being his last, Eruizone had one more memorable moment up his sleeve. During the medal ceremony, where only the captain of each team was to mount the podium, Eruzione famously called for his teammates to join him on the top step of the platform which was only just barely large enough to accommodate them all.
The game against the Soviets would become to be known as "The Miracle on Ice" and would be named by the IIHF as the Top International Hockey Story of the Century.
Today's featured jersey is a 1980 United States Mike Eruzione jersey, as worn during "The Miracle on Ice" when Mike Eruzione scored "The Goal Heard 'Round the World" in a 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics.
Despite a contract offer from the New York Rangers, Eruzione never played hockey again, stating that he'd reached the pinnacle of achievement already.
The team would reunite 22 years later to light the torch to open the next Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Dasherboard: In a memorable day of top level hockey, the opening game of the day saw classic rivals Russia and the Czech Republic square off with first place in Group B and a bye on the line.
Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring at 15:13 of the first on the powerplay. The Czech Republic countered with 54 seconds left in the period on a two man advantage to send the teams to the locker room tied at 1-1.
Viktor Kozlov put Russia back up by one 4 1/2 minutes into the second period before Evgeni Malkin widened the Russian lead to 3-1 on his second goal of the game after a thunderous check by Alexander Ovechkin separated Jaromir Jagr from the puck, triggering a Russian counter attack which led to the goal.
Milan Michalek got the Czechs back to within one five minutes into the third and the nail-biting game remained in doubt until an empty net goal by Pavel Datsyuk with 13 seconds remaining sealed the fate of the Czechs.
Game two of the day was a scintillating affair played at a frenetic pace from start to finish, described by commentator Eddie Olczyk as "tremendously tremendous". This game was what makes international hockey so special and sets it apart from the NHL version - when national pride is on the line.
Brian Rafalski scored the vital first goal for the Americans a mere 41 seconds into the game, denying the partisan home fans the chance to get into full voice. Not long after failing to convert on a powerplay, the Canadians got on the board with a nice tip-in from Eric Staal to even the score at 1-1. Rafalski scored again, the defensemen's fourth consecutive goal for the United States over the last two games, to put the US back on top at 2-1 and the period would end that way with the Canadians outshooting the US 19-6.
Just three minutes into the second, Dany Heatley ted the game for Canada. The teams would trade chances as they flew up and down the ice, hitting anyone who touched the puck in a terrific display of hockey before American veteran Chris Drury scored at 16:46 to put the United States back up by a goal for the third time. The period would conclude with the USA credited with 13 shots to Canada's 12.
Rafalski nearly completed a hat trick on the powerplay with a shot from the point into traffic, but the puck redirected past Martin Broduer after hitting the skate blade of the American captain Jaime Langenbrunner stationed in front of the goal to give the US a two goal cushion, but with plenty of time remaining for a Canadian comeback.
When Erik Johnson was sent to the penalty box, Canada was able to capitalize when Sidney Crosby redirected a puck past Ryan Miller in the American goal to reduce the US advantage back down to a single goal with three minutes remaining and setting up a frantic finish.
The Canadian pressure resembled a power play, as the United States failed to clear the puck again and again. Shot after shot rained in on Miller, who stood tall in the nets for the US as the time wound down (or dragged on depending on your partisanship). The onslaught resulted in a 14-4 advantage in shots for Canada in the third and 45-23 in favor of the Canadians for the game.
Finally with Brodeur out of the net for an extra Canadian attacker, the puck was cleared down to the Canadian end, where Ryan Kesler of the United States hustled down the ice draped over the back of Canadian Cory Perry and dove while swinging his stick in the process, launching the puck into the unguarded net for the greatest empty net goal ever to seal the game for the Americans 5-3.
Miller finished the game with 42 saves, to just 18 for Brodeur, which included a terrific glove save while lying prone on the ice of a Jarome Iginla blast from point blank range with less than three minutes remaining.
The win clinches first place in Group A for the United States and earns them one of the coveted byes into the quarterfinals, while Canada is relegated to having to play and extra game on Tuesday to earn it's place in the quarterfinals. This game could be the confidence builder that launches this young team on it's way to a medal placing, much the same way that the 1980 US Olympic team built it's confidence and momentum as their tournament progressed.
Still, even with the extra game now on their schedule, Canada should have little trouble in advancing past Germany, who has shown little offensive ability, with just three goals in three games so far. Given our choice to pick one roster in the tournament needing four straight wins for gold, we would be quite happy with Canada's roster and the bonus of the support of the home fans. If Canada can isolate themselves from the intense scrutiny and over analyzation of their last two games in hockey obsessed Canada, there's no reason this team can't be playing for gold in a week's time.
Unfortunately for Canada, once past Germany, a date with the Russians looms on the horizon, as the game many predicted for the gold medal final may occur in the quarterfinals, leaving one team by the wayside days before the medals are handed out.
Sweden made easy work of Finland in the last game of the day, shutting down the Finns 3-0 to win Group C, earn a bye and allow the United States to surprisingly lock up the #1 seed. Sweden got a goal in the first period from Loui Eriksson with a two man advantage. Nicklas Backstrom added a second four minutes into the second before Eriksson got the third Swedish goal with two minutes remaining in the period to close out the scoring, as the teams played a scoreless third to close out the final period of the preliminary round.
It's worth noting that the teams are now placed into brackets and will not be re-seeded following the games on Tuesday should one of the lower three teams pull off an unexpected upset.
When play resumes on Tuesday, the #5 seeded Czech Republic plays #12 Latvia with the winner facing #4 Finland, who earned a bye based on their goal differential over the Czechs, on Wednesday. The #1 seeded United States will wait to face the survivor of #8 Switzerland's game with #9 Belarus. The two survivors from these trios will meet in the semifinals for the chance to play for gold. Despite the presence of both the Finns and the Czechs in their bracket, only one can advance to face the United States if the US wins their quarterfinal.
The United States earned the #1 seed due to the three seemingly meaningless late goals they scored in the last six minutes versus Norway that gave them the advantage in goal differential over undefeated Sweden, which allowed the Americans to avoid being placed in the lower bracket with Slovakia, Canada and Russia.
In the lower bracket, #6 Canada faces off against winless #11 Germany for the right to face #3 Russia on Wednesday and #7 Slovakia gets #10 Norway with the winner having to play #2 Sweden. The two teams to emerge from these six will also square off in the semifinals to determine who plays for the gold medal. With Slovakia, Canada, Russia and Sweden in the same bracket, it worth noting that only two of these clubs will eventually play for a medal.
With the men having the day off, the spotlight now turns to the women's bracket, with the United States looking to avenge their 2006 loss to Sweden for the right to play in the gold medal final on Thursday. Canada takes on Finland for the other spot in the championship game. The United States in currently 3-0 with a 31-1 edge in goals while Canada is also 3-0 with a 41-2 margin in goals.