Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Miracle On Ice; the United States' 4-3 win over the Soviet Union in the final round of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Tournament. The convergence of patriotism, politics and sports have cemented the game in our national history. No game will top it.
The growing popularity of the Olympics and the movie about the US team have educated fans about the game (people realize that the US needed to win a second game against Finland to win gold, the Soviets panicked once the US took the lead). However, people tend to simplify the game.
For Florida fans, you might remember Nick Saban using the Miracle On Ice analogy to inspire Alabama in 2009. In his example, the Gators were the Soviets, Texas was Finland and Bama was USA. The analogy works better when you realize that Herb Brooks and Nick Saban are brilliant coaches but failed players (Brooks was the last cut of the gold medal winning 1960 US team). Following last night's 5-3 win by the Americans over Canada in the Olympic Hockey Tournament, some said that the victory was the biggest since Lake Placid in 1980. The problem with that is in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, also with NHL players, the US had to win back-to-back games against Canada in Montreal for the championship. The US won one game on Sunday and it was in pool play. The Canadians can still win gold, just as their 2002 gold in Salt Lake City came after finishing 1-1-1 in pool play.
What is always forgotten is that while the 1980 team was college kids, they were not the best college kids. Just as MLB teams prevented their players from the Olympic Baseball Tournament, NHL teams kept their guys out of the Olympics. Brooks ended up selecting a team that fit a philosophy, and did it out of necessity. Star players were lost to the NHL, forfitting their Olympic chances.
The Soviets were the best team in the world, but no one saw them on a regular basis. When the Soviets would play NHL teams, they would skate circles around the Canadiens, Rangers and Flyers. Only the NHL's physical play could hold the Soviets. (The Soviets' best scorer, Valeri Kharlamov, had his ankle broken by the Flyers' Bobby Clarke in the 1972 Summit Series and was knocked out playing the Flyers in 1976. ) The only thing we have close to this is the Cuban baseball team, but baseball does not have various styles of play like hockey does. Plus, Cubans have been defecting since the 1950s and are not nearly as dominant as the Soviets were in hockey.
Every ten years and Winter Olympics, people will remember the Miracle On Ice. But remember that nothing, not even precious Alabama football or one team of NHL players beating another team of NHL players, can beat that day in Lake Placid.