The Soviet Union was able to ice a team made of highly experienced, veteran hockey players since they were able to exploit the existing rules on amateurism by classifying their players as soldiers in their military, who just happened to be assigned the duty of playing hockey without being paid to do so. This meant the Soviet roster consisted of ten players over the age of 25, five of which were 30 or older battle tested, highly skilled men who had captured enough gold medals and trophies to fill a museum twice over. In addition to their experience and much higher average age, the Soviet players trained 11 months out of the year, confined to a compound away from their families.
Meanwhile, the Americans, famously referred to as "college boys", had only been brought together the previous summer and had just two players as old as 25, Buzz Schneider (the only player with any previous Olympic experience) and team captain Mike Eruzione. The entire remainder of the roster was between the ages of 20 and 22, save for teenager Mike Ramsey, 19, who was 16 years younger than Soviet captain Boris Mikhailov.
Aside from the accomplished Mikhailov, who had already won two Olympic and eight World Championship gold medals, the Soviet Union also boasted such names as the legendary Valeri Kharlamov (2 Olympic and 8 World Championship gold of his own), Sergei Makarov, Viacheslav Fetisov and, widely considered the best goaltender in the world, Vladislav Tretiak (2 Olympic and 7 World Championship gold prior to 1980), all of four of whom would be named to the six member IIHF Centennial All-Star Team.
Let that sink in for a moment. Four of the best players in all of hockey anywhere at any time over the last 100 years, were on the same team at the same time - and they were facing a team of players who had a combined zero games of NHL experience. None.
And they lost.
This was essentially the same team which had defeated a team of NHL All-Stars 6-0 one year earlier and crushed the "college boys" 13 days earlier in a final exhibition game prior to the Olympics by a score of 10-3. Despite the Soviets taking an early 1-0 lead and going up 2-1 just 3 1/2 minutes after the United States evened the score at 1-1.
One of the key moments in the game came late in the first period when, with just seconds remaining, Mark Johnson of the United States, playing hard right to the finish of the period, split the Soviet defenders, who may have let up with time expiring, and pounced on a big rebound given up by Tretiak on a long shot by Dave Christian from the other side of the center ice line. Johnson picked up the puck, skated around Tretiak and buried the puck into the gaping net with one second left on the clock to send the Americans into the intermission on a high with the score even at 2-2.
Soviet coach Viktor Tikhinov was so incensed at Tretiak, he pulled him from the game for the ensuing face off to formally finish off the period, which took some time to complete, as the Soviets had left for their dressing room, convinced that the period had expired prior to the goal being scored.
While many thought that Vladimir Myshkin had just been sent out to kill off the final second of the period, as perhaps Tretiak had already taken off some of his gear, it was indeed Myshkin who took to the crease for the start of the second period, which caused U. S. head coach and master tactician and motivator/manipulator Herb Brooks to state, "Well, boys, you just put the best goaltender in the world on the bench."
It would not take the Soviets long to counter for their lapse, with Aleksander Matsev scoring a power play goal just 2:18 into the second period and Myshkin held the US off the board for the middle period, a feat made pretty simple considering the Soviets held the Americans to just two shots on goal for the period! This meant the Soviet Union was in the all-too-familiar position of heading into the third period with a lead.
The tables began to turn when Jim Craig in the US goal kept the Soviets from adding to their lead for not only the final 17 minutes of the second period, but the first six of the third, as giving up an early goal in the third period would have been deflating for the Americans.
United States a lead they would not lose
Eruzione with his 1980 jerseys and the stick used to score his famous goal
The medal ceremony when Eruzione called the entire team onto the podium intended for just himself
To view the items being sold by Eruzione, click on the photo below of today's featured jerseys, the 1980 United States Olympic Team Mike Eruzione home and road jerseys, two of the most significant jerseys in the history the sport, with the white Miracle on Ice jersey being the likely the highest selling jersey in hockey history in 24 hours time.
Today's featured jersey is a 1980 United States Olympic Team Mike Eruzione jersey. The original jerseys worn in 1980 in Lake Placid were manufactured by a firm from the northern Minneapolis suburb of Forest Lake called Norcon. Even a blank undersized Norcon jersey is a rarity and attracts much interest whenever one surfaces in the hobby.
The white 1980 jerseys used in the Olympics feature contrasting nameplates of blue with white letters and USA arched across the front, rather than the diagonally lettered style worn during their pre-Olympic schedule of games played against a variety of college, minor league and NHL clubs. The blue jerseys were made with matching blue nameplates, however.
In today's video section, a promotional video from Heritage Auctions about the upcoming auction, which includes footage of the goal against the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics that made Eruzione (and his jersey) famous.