Miracle on Ice

Miracle on Ice
123 Total
 Soviet Union 210 3
 United States 202 4
Date February 22, 1980
Arena Olympic Center
City Lake Placid, New York, U.S.
Attendance 8,500
The Herb Brooks Arena in the Olympic Center at Lake Placid, New York hosted the match

The "Miracle on Ice" refers to a medal-round game during the men's ice hockey tournament at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, played between the hosting United States, and the defending gold medalists, the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union had won the gold medal in six of the seven previous Winter Olympic Games, and were the favorites to win once more in Lake Placid. The team consisted primarily of professional players with significant experience in international play. By contrast, the United States' team — led by head coach Herb Brooks — consisted primarily of amateur and collegiate players, and was the youngest team in the tournament and in U.S. national team history. In the group stage, both the Soviet and U.S. teams were undefeated; the U.S. achieved several notable victories, including a 2–2 draw against Sweden, and a 7–3 upset victory over second-place favorites Czechoslovakia.

For the first game in the medal round, the United States were to face the Soviets, who were the favorites to win. Finishing the first period tied at 2–2, and the Soviets leading 3-2 following the second, the U.S. team scored two more goals to take their first lead during the third and final period, winning the game 4-3 in a major upset against the Cold War rival. Following the game, the U.S. went on to clinch the gold medal by beating Finland in their final match of the tournament. Likewise, the Soviet Union took the silver medal by beating Sweden.

The victory became one of the most iconic moments of the Games and in U.S. sports. Equally well-known was the television call of the final seconds of the game by Al Michaels for ABC, in which he famously declared in the final seconds, "Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!" In 1999, Sports Illustrated named the "Miracle on Ice" the top sports moment of the 20th century..[1] As part of its centennial celebration in 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) named the "Miracle on Ice" as the best international ice hockey story of the past 100 years.[2]


The Soviet and American teams

The Soviet team's Vladislav Tretiak (pictured here in 2008) was considered the best goaltender in ice hockey in 1980. The Americans scored two goals against him before he was pulled from the game at the end of the first period.

The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as the heavy favorite, having won the previous four ice hockey gold medals dating back to the 1964 games. In the four Olympics following their 1960 upset by Team USA at Squaw Valley, Soviet teams had gone 27–1–1 (wins-losses-ties) and outscored their opponents 175–44.[3] In head-to-head match-ups against the United States, the cumulative score over that period was 28–7.[4]

The Soviet players, some of whom were active-duty military,[5] played in a well-developed league with world-class training facilities. They were led by legendary players in world ice hockey, such as Boris Mikhailov (a top line right winger and team captain), Vladislav Tretiak (the consensus best goaltender in the world at the time), the speedy and skilled Valeri Kharlamov, as well as talented, young, and dynamic players such as defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forwards Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov. From that team, Tretiak, Kharlamov, and Fetisov would eventually be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Many of the Soviet players had gained attention in the Summit Series eight years previous and, in contrast to the American players, were seasoned veterans with long histories of international play.[6]

U.S. head coach Herb Brooks had tryouts in Colorado Springs in the summer of 1979. Of the 20 players who eventually made the final Olympic roster, Buzz Schneider was the only one returning from the 1976 Olympic team.[7] Nine players had played under Brooks at the University of Minnesota, which included Rob McClanahan, Mike Ramsey, and Phil Verchota; while four more were from Boston University: Dave Silk, Jack O'Callahan, goalie Jim Craig, and team captain Mike Eruzione.[8] Boston University and Minnesota were perennial rivals in college hockey and the hostility carried over from some of the players on the Olympic team for the first few months. But part of Brooks' selection process was a 300-question psychological test that would give him insight on how every player would react under stress. Anyone who refused to take the test would be flunked. Brooks had to select from 68 players who started the tryout.[9]

The average age of the U.S. team was 21 years old, making it the youngest team in U.S. team history to play in the Olympics. It would be the youngest team in the Olympic tournament. But Brooks had selected carefully and knew the limits of every player. As forward John Harrington said, "He knew exactly where to quit. He'd push you right to the limit where you were ready to say, 'I've had it, I'm throwing it in'—and then he'd back off." Brooks continued the organization by campaigning for the players' selection of Eruzione as the captain, and Craig had been the goalie for him in the 1979 World Championship tournament.[9] Assistant coach Craig Patrick had played with Brooks on the 1967 U.S. national team.[10]

The Soviet and American teams were natural rivals due to the decades-old Cold War. In addition, President Jimmy Carter was at the time considering a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, to be held in Moscow, in protest of the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. On February 9, the same day the American and Soviet teams met in an exhibition game in New York City, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance denounced the impending Moscow games at a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).[11] President Carter eventually decided in favor of the boycott.


Mark Johnson's goal in the last second of the first period tied the game

In exhibitions that year, Soviet club teams went 5–3–1 against National Hockey League (NHL) teams, and a year earlier, the Soviet national team had routed the NHL All-Stars 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup.[12] In 1979–80, virtually all the top North American players were Canadians, although the number of U.S.-born professional players had been on the rise throughout the 1970s. The 1980 U.S. Olympic team featured several young players who were regarded as highly promising, and some had signed contracts to play in the NHL immediately after the tournament.

In September 1979, before the Olympics, the American team started exhibition play. They played a total of 61 games in five months against teams from Europe and America.[13] Through these games, Herb Brooks instilled a European style of play in the American team, emphasizing wide open play with sufficient body contact. He believed it would be the only way for the Americans to compete with the Soviets.[14] Brooks wanted a team of open-minded people who could skate, and considered it a requirement for each member of the team to be able to skate. From the start of the exhibitions, he conducted the team through skating windsprints consisting of end line to blue line and back, then end line to red line and back, then end line to far blue line and back, and finally end line all the way down and back. Some of the players took to calling these Herbies.[9] On September 17, 1979, the team played to a 3-3 tie in Norway.[15] Brooks had them skate Herbies after the game, and after a while, the lights were turned off by custodians and the practice continued in the dark. Near the end of the exhibition season, although he had supported them throughout, Brooks threatened because of subpar play to cut Eruzione (the captain) and replace Craig as the starting goalie with Steve Janaszak.[9]

In the last exhibition game against the Soviets at Madison Square Garden on February 9, 1980, the Soviets crushed the Americans 10–3.[16] Soviet head coach Viktor Tikhonov later said that this victory "turned out to be a very big problem" by causing the Soviets to underestimate the American team.[17] The game was also costly for the Americans off-ice, as defenseman Jack O'Callahan pulled a ligament in his knee; however, Brooks kept O'Callahan on the roster which meant virtually playing with only 19 players throughout the tournament. O'Callahan would eventually return for the game against the Soviets playing limited minutes.

Olympic group play

In Olympic group play, the Americans surprised many observers with their physical, cohesive play. In their first game against favored Sweden, Team USA earned a dramatic 2–2 draw by scoring with 27 seconds left after pulling goalie Jim Craig for an extra attacker. Had Team USA not scored this goal and all other results remained the same, the Soviet Union would have emerged with the gold medal on goal differential over the U.S. in the medal round. Then came a stunning 7–3 victory over Czechoslovakia, who were a favorite for the silver medal. With its two toughest games in the group phase out of the way, the U.S. team reeled off three more wins, beating Norway 5–1, Romania 7–2, and West Germany 4–2 to go 4–0–1 and advance to the medal round from its group, along with Sweden.

In the other group, the Soviets stormed through their opposition undefeated, often by grossly lopsided scores. They defeated Japan 16–0, the Netherlands 17–4, Poland 8–1, Finland 4–2, and Canada 6–4 to easily qualify for the next round, although both the Finns and the Canadians gave the Soviets tough games for two periods. In the end, the Soviet Union and Finland advanced from their group.[18]

Preparing for the medal round

The U.S. and Soviet teams prepared for the medal round in different ways. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov rested most of his best players, preferring to let them study plays rather than actually skate. U.S. coach Herb Brooks, however, continued with his tough, confrontational style, skating hard practices and berating his players for perceived weaknesses and to build stamina. Brooks' goal was to have his team be able to keep up with the Soviets through all three periods.

The day before the match, columnist Dave Anderson wrote in 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."[19]

Game summary

Prior to the game, ABC requested that it be re-scheduled from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, so that it could be broadcast live in primetime hours. However, the decision was declined by the IIHF, after the Soviets complained that it would cause the game to air at 4 a.m. Moscow Time, as opposed to 1 a.m. Moscow Time. As a result, ABC decided not to broadcast the game live for the U.S. audience, and tape delayed it for broadcast during its primetime Olympics coverage instead.[20] Before the game aired, ABC's Olympics host Jim McKay openly stated that the game had already occurred, but that they had promised not to spoil its results. In order to accommodate coverage of the men's slalom competition, portions of the game were also edited for time.[21] To this day some of the people that watched the game on television still believe that it was live.[22]

With a capacity of 8,500, the Field House was packed.[23] The home crowd waved U.S. flags and sang patriotic songs such as "God Bless America".[12] Before the game, Brooks read his players a statement he had written out on a piece of paper, telling them that "You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours."[24] Brooks believed they could win and later said, "The Russians were ready to cut their own throats. But we had to get to the point to be ready to pick up the knife and hand it to them. So the morning of the game I called the team together and told them, 'It's meant to be. This is your moment and it's going to happen.' It's kind of corny and I could see them thinking, 'Here goes Herb again....' But I believed it."[9]

First period

As in several previous games, the U.S. team fell behind early. Vladimir Krutov deflected a slap shot by Alexei Kasatonov past U.S. goaltender Jim Craig at the 9:12 mark to give the Soviets a 1–0 lead, and after Buzz Schneider scored for the United States on a 50-foot shot from the left boards at 14:03 to tie the game,[9] the Soviets struck again with a Sergei Makarov goal with 17:34 gone. With his team down 2–1, Craig improved his play, turning away many Soviet shots before the U.S. team had another shot on goal (the Soviet team had 39 shots on goal in the game, the Americans 16).

In the waning seconds of the first period, Dave Christian fired a slap shot on Tretiak from 100 feet (30 m) away. The Soviet goalie saved the shot but misplayed the rebound, which bounced out some 20 feet (6.1 m) in front of him. Mark Johnson sliced between the two defenders, found the loose puck, and fired it past a diving Tretiak to tie the score with one second left in the period. This would be an important judgment call by the officials, as an official announcement confirming the goal did not come until many Soviet players were off the ice and heading to the locker room for intermission.[25] The first period ended with the game tied 2–2.[26]

Second period

Tikhonov replaced Tretiak with backup goaltender Vladimir Myshkin immediately after Johnson's tying goal,[27] a move which shocked players on both teams.[12] Tikhonov later identified this as the "turning point of the game",[28] and called it "the biggest mistake of my career".[29] Years later, when Johnson asked Viacheslav Fetisov, now an NHL teammate, about the move, Fetisov responded with "Coach crazy".[30] Myshkin allowed no goals in the second period. The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting the Americans 12–2, but scored only once, on a power play goal by Aleksandr Maltsev 2:18 into play. After two periods the Soviet Union led 3–2.

Third period

Vladimir Krutov was sent to the penalty box at the 6:47 mark of the third period for high-sticking. The Americans, who had managed only two shots on Myshkin in 27 minutes, had a power play and a rare offensive opportunity. Myshkin stopped a Mike Ramsey shot, then U.S. team captain Mike Eruzione fired a shot wide. Late in the power play, Dave Silk was advancing into the Soviet zone when Valeri Vasiliev knocked him to the ice. The puck slid to Mark Johnson.[31] Johnson fired off a shot that went under Myshkin and into the net at the 8:39 mark, as the power play was ending, tying the game at 3.[32] Only a couple of shifts later, Mark Pavelich passed to Eruzione, who was left undefended in the high slot. Eruzione, who had just come onto the ice, fired a shot past Myshkin, who was screened by Vasili Pervukhin.[33] This goal gave Team USA a 4–3 lead, its first of the game, with 10 minutes remaining.

The Soviets, trailing for the first time in the game, attacked ferociously. Moments after Eruzione's goal, Maltsev fired a shot which ricocheted off the right goal post.[34] As the minutes wound down, Brooks kept repeating to his players, "Play your game. Play your game."[35] Instead of going into a defensive crouch, the United States continued to play offense, even getting off a few more shots on goal.[36] The Soviets began to shoot wildly, and Sergei Starikov admitted that "we were panicking". As the clock ticked down below a minute, the Soviets got the puck back into the American zone, and Mikhailov passed to Vladimir Petrov, who shot wide.[37] The Soviets never pulled Myshkin for an extra attacker, much to the Americans' disbelief. Starikov later explained that "We never did six-on-five", not even in practice, because "Tikhonov just didn't believe in it".[38] Craig kicked away a Petrov slap shot with 33 seconds left. Kharlamov fired the puck back in as the clock ticked below 20 seconds. A wild scramble for the puck ensued, ending when Johnson found it and passed it to Ken Morrow.[38] As the U.S. team tried to clear the zone (move the puck over the blue line, which they did with seven seconds remaining), the crowd began to count down the seconds left. Sportscaster Al Michaels, who was calling the game on ABC along with former Montreal Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden, picked up on the countdown in his broadcast, and delivered his famous call:[39]

11 seconds, you've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!!
The March 3, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated ran without any accompanying captions or headlines.

As his team ran all over the ice in celebration, Herb Brooks sprinted back to the locker room and cried.[40] In the locker room afterwards, players spontaneously broke into a chorus of "God Bless America".[41]

During the broadcast wrap-up after the game, ABC Olympic sports anchor Jim McKay compared the American victory over the Soviets to a group of Canadian college football players defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers (the recent Super Bowl champions and at the height of their dynasty).

American aftermath

Gold medal

Jim Craig's gear from 1980, at the Hockey Hall of Fame

The United States did not immediately win the gold medal upon defeating the USSR. In 1980, the medal round was a round-robin, not a single elimination format as it is today. Under Olympic rules at the time, the group game with Sweden was counted along with the medal round games versus the Soviet Union and Finland so it was mathematically possible for the United States to finish anywhere from first to fourth.[42]

Needing to win to secure the gold medal, Team USA came back from a 2–1 third period deficit to defeat Finland 4–2.[18] According to Mike Eruzione, coming into the dressing room in the second intermission, Brooks turned to his players, looked at them and said, "If you lose this game, you'll take it to your fucking graves."

At the time, the players ascended a podium to receive their medals and then lined up on the ice for the playing of the national anthem, as the podium was only meant to accommodate one person. Only the team captains remained on the podium for the duration. After the completion of the anthem, Eruzione motioned for his teammates to join him on the podium.[43] Today, podiums are not used for ice hockey; the teams line up on their respective bluelines after the final game.

The cover of the March 3, 1980 issue of Sports Illustrated was a photograph by Heinz Kluetmeier; it did not feature any explanatory captions or headlines, because, as Kluetmeier put it, "It didn't need it. Everyone in America knew what happened".[44] The U.S. team also received the magazine's "Sportsmen of the Year" award,[9] as well as being named as Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press and ABC's Wide World of Sports. In 2004, ESPN, as part of its 25th anniversary, declared the Miracle on Ice to be the top sports headline moment, and game of the period 1979–2004. The victory was voted the greatest sports moment of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated.[45]

The U.S. team had the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

After 1980 Winter Olympics

At the 1981 Canada Cup, the United States, with seven players from their 1980 Olympic team, again faced the Soviet Union. The Soviets took the opening round encounter 4–1 in Edmonton. At the 1982 World Championship in Finland, with Mike Ramsey, Mark Johnson, Buzz Schneider, and John Harrington, the Americans again met the Soviets, but once again the U.S. lost, 8–4.

Later careers

Of the 20 players on Team USA, 13 eventually played in the NHL.[46] Five of them went on to play over 500 NHL games, and three would play over 1,000 NHL games.

The Miracle on Ice launched the professional careers of several players but also made broadcaster Al Michaels famous

Soviet aftermath

Silver medal

In the Soviet locker room, Tikhonov singled out first-line players Tretiak, Kharlamov, Petrov, and Mikhailov, and told each of them, "This is your loss!"[60] Two days after the Miracle on Ice, the Soviet team defeated Sweden 9–2, winning the silver medal. The Soviet players were so upset at their loss that they did not turn in their silver medals to get their names inscribed on them, as is custom.[61] The result stunned the Soviet Union and its news media.

After 1980 Winter Olympics

Despite the loss, the USSR remained the pre-eminent power in Olympic hockey until its 1991 break-up. The Soviet team did not lose a World Championship game until 1985 and did not lose to the United States again until 1991.[62] Throughout the 1980s, NHL teams continued to draft Soviet players in hopes of enticing them to eventually play professionally in North America. Soviet emigrant Victor Nechayev made a brief appearance with the Los Angeles Kings in the 1982–83 season, and during the 1988–89 season, the Soviet Ice Hockey Federation agreed to let veteran Sergei Pryakhin join the Calgary Flames.[63]

NHL careers

Former Soviet National team player, Helmuts Balderis pictured in 2014. Balderis played a season late in his career with the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL

In the 1989/90 season, six 1980 Soviet Olympians joined NHL clubs: Helmuts Balderis, Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov and Sergei Starikov. Fetisov was a teammate of Mike Ramsey on the 1995 Detroit Red Wings team that lost the Stanley Cup Final. Fetisov completed his career by winning Cups with the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998; the first Cup win also made Fetisov a member of the Triple Gold Club, consisting of individuals who have won a Stanley Cup plus gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships.[64] Makarov won the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year in 1989/90, becoming the oldest player to win that award.[65] That same season, younger Soviet star Alexander Mogilny defected to play for the Buffalo Sabres, followed the next year by Sergei Fedorov who defected to play for the Detroit Red Wings. Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a flood of ex-Soviet stars joined the NHL, including Pavel Bure and Vladimir Konstantinov. Since then, many of the NHL's top players have come from the post-Soviet states.

Notable rematches

The U.S. and the Soviet Union next met at the Olympics at the 1988 games. The Soviets won the first round encounter 7–5. The Soviets went on to win the gold medal, while the U.S. placed seventh.

The two teams met again at the 1992 Olympics in a semi-final. There, the Unified Team (the successor to the Soviet Union) won 5–2. The Unified Team eventually won the gold medal, while the U.S. placed fourth.

The U.S and Russia met twice in the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which included a 2–2 round robin draw and a 3–2 semi-final in favor of USA, with the semi-final match coming 22 years to the day after the "Miracle on Ice" game.[57]

The U.S. and Russia played each other in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The round robin game was tied 2–2 after overtime and was won by the Americans in an 8-round shootout, with T.J. Oshie scoring on 4 of 6 attempts for the USA. The match has been dubbed by some as the "Marathon on Ice".[66]

Film and television

A made-for-TV movie Miracle on Ice, starring Karl Malden as Brooks and Steve Guttenberg as Craig, aired on ABC television in March 1981.[67] It incorporated actual game footage and original commentary from the 1980 Winter Games.

The documentary film Do You Believe in Miracles?, narrated by Liev Schreiber, premiered on HBO in February 2001 and was subsequently released on home video.[68]

In 2004, Walt Disney Pictures released the film Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as Brooks. Al Michaels recreated his commentary for most of the games. The final ten seconds, however, and his "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" call, were from the original broadcast and used in the film since the filmmakers felt that they could not ask him to recreate the emotion he felt at that moment. The film was dedicated to Herb Brooks, who died shortly after principal photography was completed. The movie was released by Walt Disney Pictures, by that point a sister company to ABC.

The documentary Of Miracles And Men, which was directed by Jonathan Hock, premiered on ESPN on February 8, 2015 as part of the channel's 30 for 30 series. The story of the 1980 matchup is told from the Soviet perspective while also branching out to include what happened in the years that immediately followed. Slava Fetisov's return to Lake Placid was focused on heavily, as he takes his daughter Anastasia on the trip to reminisce.[69]

Team rosters

Paraguayan stamp featuring Robert McClanahan

United States

No. Pos. Name Age Hometown College
30 G *Jim Craig 21 North Easton, MA Boston U.
3 D *Ken Morrow 22 Flint, MI Bowling Green
5 D *Mike Ramsey 19 Minneapolis, MN Minnesota
10 C *Mark Johnson 22 Madison, WI Wisconsin
24 LW *Rob McClanahan 22 Saint Paul, MN Minnesota
8 RW *Dave Silk 21 Scituate, MA Boston U.
6 D Bill Baker (A) 22 Grand Rapids, MN Minnesota
9 C Neal Broten 20 Roseau, MN Minnesota
23 D Dave Christian 20 Warroad, MN North Dakota
11 RW Steve Christoff 21 Richfield, MN Minnesota
21 LW Mike Eruzione (C) 25 Winthrop, MA Boston U.
28 RW John Harrington 22 Virginia, MN Minnesota-Duluth
1 G Steve Janaszak 22 Saint Paul, MN Minnesota
17 D Jack O'Callahan 22 Charlestown, MA Boston U.
16 C Mark Pavelich 21 Eveleth, MN Minnesota-Duluth
25 LW Buzz Schneider 25 Grand Rapids, MN Minnesota
19 RW Eric Strobel 21 Rochester, MN Minnesota
20 D Bob Suter 22 Madison, WI Wisconsin
27 LW Phil Verchota 22 Duluth, MN Minnesota
15 C Mark Wells 21 St. Clair Shores, MI Bowling Green

Soviet Union

No. Pos. Name Age Hometown
20 G *Vladislav Tretiak 27 Orudyevo, Moscow Oblast, Russia
2 D *Viacheslav Fetisov 21 Moscow, Russia
7 D *Alexei Kasatonov 20 Leningrad, Russia
16 C *Vladimir Petrov 32 Krasnogorsk, Moscow Oblast, Russia
17 LW *Valeri Kharlamov 32 Moscow, Russia
13 RW *Boris Mikhailov (C) 35 Moscow, Russia
19 RW Helmuts Balderis 27 Riga, Latvia
14 D Zinetula Bilyaletdinov 24 Moscow, Russia
23 RW Aleksandr Golikov 27 Penza, Russia
25 C Vladimir Golikov 25 Penza, Russia
9 LW Vladimir Krutov 19 Moscow, Russia
11 RW Yuri Lebedev 28 Moscow, Russia
24 RW Sergei Makarov 21 Chelyabinsk, Russia
10 C/RW Aleksandr Maltsev 30 Kirovo-Chepetsk, Russia
1 G Vladimir Myshkin 24 Kirovo-Chepetsk, Russia
5 D Vasili Pervukhin 24 Penza, Russia
26 LW Aleksandr Skvortsov 25 Gorky, Russia
12 D Sergei Starikov 21 Chelyabinsk, Russia
6 D Valeri Vasiliev (A) 30 Gorky, Russia
22 C Viktor Zhluktov 26 Inta, Russia

* Starting line up

Box score

February 22, 1980 (1980-02-22)
17:00 EST
 United States4–3
(2–2, 0–1, 2–0)
Soviet Union Olympic Center
Attendance: 8,500


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