40 years later, it’s still a Miracle

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They’re a lot older, much more gray around the temples, a bit paunchier around the waistline. But they remain genuine American heroes.

Forty years ago on this night, the most improbable upset in the history of sports took place on a patch of ice in upstate New York. A group of college guys upset the world’s best hockey team and would eventually capture the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

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They refer to it as the “Miracle On Ice” and Saturday, the majority of that team gathered in Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena before the Knights game with Florida to celebrate the USA’s 4-3 win over the Soviet Union. Two days later, they rallied to defeat Finland 4-2 for the gold medal.

“It’s still special all these years later,” said Dave Christian, who was on the 1980 team and whose father Billy and uncle Roger had their own “Miracle” moment in helping lead the USA to the hockey gold medal at the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif. “We’re very proud of what we did, the way we represented hockey and got so many kids interested in playing.” 

Buzz Schneider said a big part of the Miracle is the legacy the team has been able to leave to generations of American hockey players. The fact the game exists in markets like Las Vegas is due in a part to Team USA.

“You see what’s going on here in Las Vegas, how it’s become a big hockey town and the success of the Golden Knights,” Schneider said. “It’s great to see.”

A pivotal moment in the game with the Soviets came late in the first period when Mark Johnson scored with one second left and when the second period started, Vladislav Tretiak, the great Soviet goaltender, was benched. It gave the Americans added confidence.

“We couldn’t believe it,” Schneider said. “The best goalie in the world was pulled? It was a shock. But we were glad it happened.”

Indeed. Mike Eruzione scored midway through the third period to give the Americans a 4-3 lead. Jim Craig made several big stops in the U.S. net and as the final seconds wound down, Al Michaels uttered the famous words, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

Golden Knights president George McPhee was a sophomore at Bowling Green and was a college teammate of Ken Morrow, the USA defenseman who would go on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders after his gold medal performance at Lake Placid. He still recalls the moment.

“We were on the road playing and they announced the score and of course everybody was going crazy,” he said. “We looked at each other on the bench and we couldn’t believe it. But we were so happy for Kenny. He was a great player and he went on to do great things in his NHL career with the Islanders.”

Morrow made a key play in those final seconds, winning the battle for the puck in the corner, then sending it along the boards where Dave Silk cleared the zone and sealed the win.

Schneider said the Miracle On Ice players keep in touch with each other and anytime they can get together (the last reunion was five years ago in Lake Placid), it’s special.

“It’s always great to see everyone,” Schneider said. “There’s obviously a very special bond and we try to stay in contact with each other. We understand our place in history, not just for hockey.”

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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