The world was in a state of turmoil. The Cold War was at epic heights between the Soviet Union and the United States.
America was secretly funding the Afghan rebels to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan.
There was no love loss between the two countries whether it was world affairs or on the ice.
The 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York was not just an international athletic competition, but a showing of superpower muscle.
And a band of collegiate hockey players from the Midwest and New England, were David trying to take down the Soviet Goliath.
Jim Craig, Mike Eruzione, Dave Silk, and Jack O’Callahan grew up playing hockey on rinks in the Boston area.
Jack O’ Callahan hailed from Charlestown, Mass.
Jim Craig called North Easton home.
Mike Eruzione grew up in Winthrop.
Dave Silk was raised in Scituate.
These four sons from the Bay State all attended Boston University, one of the country’s collegiate hockey powerhouses which was coached by the now legendary, Jack Parker.
O’Callahan attended BU from ’75-’79 where he became a leader on the Terriers team. The young defensemen was selected as team captain during his junior year and helped lead Boston University to a National Championship in ’77-’78. O’Callahan played on a high level by adding six assists. He was named tournament MVP.
O’Callahan also excelled off the ice by being named student-athlete of the year in 1978. He was the type of player that Team USA was looking for well rounded and a leader.
Goaltender, Jim Craig, was also part of the 1978 NCAA championship team along with O’Callahan. He was an All-American goalie for BU between the pipes. In three seasons at BU, Craig posted a 29-4-2 record with a 3.65 GAA.
Forward, Dave Silk made an immediate impact as a young player being one of only ten underclassmen to make the team. As a freshman, he scored 35 goals breaking a ten year old team record and was named New England rookie of the year. He was also teammates with Craig and O’Callahan on the 1978 National championship team.
These three players were leaders and winners. They all excelled at their positions and knew how to play as a team.
And they won as a team.
Olympic coach, Herb Brooks didn’t want the best players, he wanted the right players.
O’ Callahan, Silk, and Craig were the right players.
Mike Eruzione’s journey started a bit earlier than the other three. Eruzione attended Boston University from 1973-1977 where he averaged 20 goals (92 career goals) and served as team captain during his senior year. His defense was also recognized, as he was voted a four time outstanding defensive forward.
After graduation, he joined the Toledo Goaldiggers of the International Hockey League and helped lead the team to a Turner Cup Championship in his first season.
After his second year in Toledo, Eruzione was chosen for the US Olympic Men’s Hockey team. At the age of 25, he was an elder statesman compared to many of the collegiate players who were still attending school. However, his age and experience helped mold him into a leader and later team captain of Team USA.
Olympic Coach Herb Brooks believed in Eruzione’s skills, winning attitude, and leadership when no one else gave him a shot.
Eruzione was the definition of a captain.
The four Massachusetts natives were mixed in with the top players from New England and the Mid-West. A lot of these players faced each other in collegiate play and didn’t, let’s just say didn’t have warm and fuzzy feelings towards one another.
There were rivalries and maybe slight hatred amongst some of the players.
However, Herb Brooks had those players turn their grudges and disdain for another into respect and brotherhood.
All of the players on the 1980 Olympic hockey team knew they had an uphill battle especially against the juggernaut Soviet Union squad.
The US squad met the USSR in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden prior to the opening to the Olympics. The Soviets throttled the young Americans, 10-3.
Jack O’Callahan would get injured during that game and possibly could miss most of the Olympic Games. He was devastated, but Brooks kept him on the roster with the hopes that O’Callahan would return.
Brooks owed him the chance.
The US team would band together with ties against Sweden and an upset 7-3 victory over Czechoslovakia led by backstop Jim Craig’s play. The Czech team was considered to be the second best team behind the Soviets.
Team USA would then win their next three games with relative ease over Norway, Romania and West Germany advancing to the medal round.
The USA men’s hockey team was a galvanized squad and ready to take on the professional Soviet players.
Not many gave this band of collegiate brothers a chance against the powerful hammer and sickle of the U.S.S.R.
Dave Anderson of the New York Times, “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments.”
While the Soviet coach rested his players, Brooks continued to put his skaters through grueling drills. He knew his team had to outskate, outscore, and outwit their opponents.
Nothing was taken for granted.
Brooks and his players knew what they had to do to have a chance.
This game was not just a game but a defining moment in American history.
Good versus Evil.
Democracy versus Communism.
Amateurs versus Professionals.
The Cold War was going to get ice cold.
Charlestown’s Jack O’Callahan made his return to the ice after sustaining an injury against this same Soviet team in New York City.
Craig, Eruzione, Silk, and the rest of the United States team were full strength and ready to challenge the Evil Empire.
O’Callahan was throwing his body around, Silk was skating with passion, Craig was repelling Soviet attack after attack (39 saves on 42 shots), and Captain Mike Eruzione kept his team focused.
The United States kept clawing back and tied up the game 3-3, on a Mark Johnson tally (second of the game). With 10 minutes remaining, Eruzione scored on a play set up by Mark Pavelich and John Harrington. The image of Mike Eruzione high stepping in celebration then being engulfed by his teammates has been forever etched in American sports history.
It proved to be the game winner as the youthful, underdog Americans upset the battle tested Soviets to advance to the gold medal game.
Sports Illustrated said of Team USA’s win over the Soviet Union;
“It may just be the single most indelible moment in all of U.S. sports history. One that sent an entire nation into frenzy.”
The US hockey team would beat Finland, after coming from behind yet again, 4-2 to complete the “Miracle On Ice.”
The image of Jim Craig wrapped in the Stars and Strips is timeless. It helped rally the nation as did the Raising of the
Flag on Iwo Jima during World War Two.
As team captain Mike Eruzione was on the podium to accept his gold medal, he waved over his whole team to join him. They played as team, won as team, and were going to be awarded their gold medals as a team. It was just another incredible moment that would bring tears to any American’s eyes.
The miracle men from Massachusetts all went on to other things in their lives, but nothing would outweigh what they did in the tiny little village of Lake Placid.
The sport of hockey reached epic heights of popularity after their gold medal performance in the Winter Games.
The United States was now perceived as hockey powers like Canada, Sweden, and the Soviet Union.
Their achievements as a team, not as individuals, have proven to be an inspiration thirty years later.
The young Americans proved that against all odds you can still achieve your goals.
And exceed them.