In 1960, CBS carried the Winter Olympics from Squaw Valley, Calif.; the first Olympics seen on American television in real time. (Film of previous games held overseas were printed and transported by air to the United States to air at a later date.) Part of their Olympics coverage was hockey, which featured the last Canadian club team in the Olympics (the equivalent of the US' best intramural basketball team replacing the Dream Team) and the upstart Soviet Union. The Soviets played in their first Olympics in 1956 and won gold medals in every Olympics between 1956 and 1992, except for 1960 and 1980.
With Canada and the Soviets, the other favorites were traditional powerhouses Czechoslovakia and Sweden, leaving the Americans as an after thought. The US had home ice advantage, but also experienced international players in addition to college kids. One of the reasons why the 1980 US team is so much more beloved than the 1960 team is that the '60 team had grown men who played semi-pro hockey. Those players, like hockey stick creator Bill Christian and future Harvard coach Bill Cleary, had won the previous two silver medals in 1952 and '56.
Just as in 1980, the US got through pool play unbeaten in 1960. Facing the Soviets in the semifinals, a third period goal would send the Americans to the gold medal game.
The US would win gold by defeating Czechoslovakia the next day. Hockey fans like to point out how significant the '80 Miracle On Ice was, but the '60 win was just as significant. It gave the US six medals in the first eight Olympic hockey tournaments (they have won four since 1960, one less than Canada) and by the end of the '60s, the NHL doubled from the Original Six to 12 teams, two of them in California. The growth of hockey outside of New England and the Upper Midwest has roots in the US gold medal in the 1960 Winter Olympics.