- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
For millions of people, their single, lasting image of the Lake Placid Games will be the infectious joy displayed by the U.S. hockey team following its 4-3 win over the Soviet Union last Friday night. It was an Olympian moment, the kind the creators of the Games must have had in mind, one that said: Here is something that is bigger than any of you. It was bizarre, it was beautiful. Upflung sticks slowly cartwheeled into the rafters. The American players—in pairs rather than in one great glop—hugged and danced and rolled on one another (see cover).
The Soviet players, slightly in awe, it seemed, of the spectacle of their defeat, stood in a huddle near their blue line, arms propped on their sticks, and waited for the ceremonial postgame handshakes with no apparent impatience. There was no head-hanging. This was bigger, even, than the Russians.
"The first Russian I shook hands with had a smile on his face," said Mark Johnson, who had scored two of the U.S. goals. "I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it. We beat the Russians."
In the streets of Lake Placid and across the country, it was more of the same. A spontaneous rally choked the streets outside the Olympic Ice Center, snarling bus traffic for the umpteenth time since the start of the Games. A sister of one of the U.S. hockey players—in between cries of "The Russians! I can't believe we beat the Russians!"—said she hadn't seen so many flags since the '60s. "And we were burning them then," she added.
So move over, Dallas Cowboys. The fresh-faced U.S. hockey team had captured the imagination of a country. This was America's Team. When the score of the U.S.-Soviet game was announced at a high school basketball game in Athens, Ohio, the fans—many of whom had probably never seen a hockey game—stood and roared and produced dozens of miniature American flags. In a Miami hospital, a TV set was rolled into the surgical intensive care unit and doctors and nurses cheered on the U.S. between treating gunshot wounds and reading X-rays. In Atlanta, Leo Mulder, the manager of the Off Peachtree restaurant, concocted a special drink he called the Craig Cocktail, after U.S. Goalie Jim Craig, whose NHL rights belong to the Atlanta Flames. What's in a Craig Cocktail? "Everything but vodka," Mulder said. Impromptu choruses of the Star-Spangled Banner were heard in restaurants around Lake Placid, while down in the U.S. locker room—you still doubt this is America's Team?—the players leather-lunged their way through God Bless America!
"Someone started it as a joke, I think," said Dave Silk, the right wing who had set up the tying goal. "But all of a sudden we were all singing. We got to the part after 'land that I love...' and nobody knew the words. So we kind of hummed our way to '...from the mountains, to the prairies ...' and we finished it. It was great."
Great as it was, there was still a little matter of the gold medal to take care of. Going into Sunday's game against Finland, it was possible for any of the four medal-round teams—the U.S., Finland, Sweden, the U.S.S.R.—to win the gold. Despite its astonishing string of upsets and its 5-0-1 record, the U.S. wasn't even assured of a bronze. But America's Team had come too far to lose.
"To be one game away from the gold medal is the dream of a lifetime," said Forward John Harrington. "There was no way we were going to blow it."
They didn't, but it wasn't easy. Finnish Goalie Jorma Valtonen made 14 stops in the first period as Finland took a 1-0 lead—the sixth time in seven games the Americans had surrendered the first goal. Steve Christoff tied the game in the second period, but the Finns scored a power-play goal two minutes later.
So, after two periods, this U.S. squad found itself in almost the same position that another American Olympic hockey team had been in 1960 at Squaw Valley. After having beaten the Soviets the day before, the '60 team was trailing Czechoslovakia 4-3 with one period to play. The U.S. players then came out and scored six unanswered goals. One of the leaders of that comeback was Billy Christian, and 20 years later it was his son, David, who sparked the decisive rally.