Miracle On Ice: 7 unbelievable facts the Russians really hate (Puck Lists)

PUCK LISTS are lists of hockey things. They run every Thursday on Puck Daddy, except today, because today is special.

A mere 37 years ago — and really it feels like just yesterday — the United States played in a hockey game. You might have heard of it. It was called: an Olympic semifinal I mean the Miracle On Ice.

Oh yeah, the United States of America back when it was really great was able to beat the Soviet Union (or “Russia” in today’s parlance) in a game without broader implications or the transference of anxieties. Obviously, no one analogized something as trivial as a hockey game with geopolitical tensions or the clash of two powerful economic ideologies that had dominated the global landscape for decades.

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What’s so amazing about this game, which was a literal miracle performed by the capitalist God of America and not at all a demonstration of random chance in action, is that very few people talk about on a regular basis. It was a big deal, but so much time has passed that I guess everyone just kind of forgets what happened other than the fact that the United States beat their archrival who they hated so much and the feeling was absolutely mutual for sure.

So with this in mind, and on the 37th anniversary of the game in Lake Placid, here are seven amazing true facts about the Miracle On Ice that are 100 percent real.

(Also, there was a big fight in the NHL that same day in which six players died, I think, but no one talks about it — certainly not within the context of “another fun hockey thing happened that day” — and certainly there’s no video of said event. I’m inclined to believe it’s made up.)

7 – The Russian guys were basically the best team in the world, but our Brave College Kids were not professional athletes at all

The Olympics back in 1980, which was 37 years ago today, was a lot different than it is now.

You see, they didn’t let professional athletes play in the Olympics back then. It’s a little-known fact but if you didn’t have a job at a gas station or a grocery store the IOC would beat you up and make you go to Sports Jail, which has since been banned by the Hague.

However — and this is very unfair, believe me — the Russian team didn’t have to play by these rules at all. In fact, every game in the Olympics, the Russian team came out with hundreds of dollars in their hands like Ted DiBiase, just to show that they were rich professional athletes.

Meanwhile, the nice young boys on the US team all had to push big rocks up hills for nine cents a day. Sure, they had tryouts for the US team in the summer of 1979, months before the Olympics actually happened, and the organizers at USA Hockey had to schedule them around the rock-pushing jobs. A little hectic.

Anyway, the disparity between the athletes whose job was to play hockey and the amateurs who had never even skated before that summer was on display in a game at a little arena you might have heard of called Madison Square Garden. The Russians beat the Americans 10-3 just days before the Olympics started.

Then Sergei Makarov stole Jack Callahan’s car, just because he could.

The IOC didn’t stop him or anything.

6 – USA coach Herb Brooks was very demanding, but the players loved him anyway even after he made them skate a bunch of sprints and they always hugged

Has someone ever made you skate in the dark until you puked because you tied Norway in one of the 61 (that’s it?!) exhibition games you played in the course of four or five months?

If the answer is yes — and it should be, or else we know for sure you are of weak moral character — then you know that the person who made you do the skating is the nicest person you’ve ever met in your miserable life.

Herb Brooks may have assembled a moderately talented team, but he would be damned if that team didn’t also have the ability to run a marathon seconds after a triple-overtime hockey game in which the Russians got to put 14 players on the ice at the same time. And so it was that, under threat of getting cut and sent to Iran, everyone on the US team became a peak athlete who was so so strong.

5 – The game wasn’t even broadcast on live television which is crazy because so many people knew what happened even before they saw the game that’s how crazy it was

Folks, there used to be four channels. And when the US game was played, all of them were showing reruns of “Days of Our Lives.” It’s true.

So by the time the game actually aired, everyone in the United States had already rolled their eyes and said, “Uhh, spoiler alert much?” That was why no one watched the game and footage of Al Michaels’ famous call of Russia’s second goal is lost forever. One guy taped it because he was asleep during the game, but then a few years later, his kids taped over it with two episodes of Punky Brewster. One of them was the one where Punky’s friend or something drinks poison because he or she is illiterate. I can’t find the plot summary online but that was definitely one of the episodes of that show.

Oops!

4 – Viktor Tikhonov pulled the best goalie in the world whose name I forget but he was really good I guess

A big criticism of hockey before, say, 1995, was that all goalies were bad. And it’s true. They’re all wearing little tiny pads and just standing there as guys whale in slap shots from center ice. The first time a goalie saved a shot from the red line was actually in the Miracle on Ice.

It was the Russian goalie, the good one who was the best bad goalie in the world, who took a shot from Dave Christian with about three seconds left in the period. Instead of letting it go in like every other goalie had ever done, the Russian guy said, “I will stop this instead.” That was his mistake, because Mark Johnson came in and scored with just one tick left on the clock.

Viktor Tikhonov, incensed that the goalie had made a save with three seconds left — ample time for the Russians to score their own goal from center ice on the ensuing faceoff — pulled his guy who was famous for being great. Instead he put in a goalie who was famous for being only pretty good. He blew it. That was when Russia forfeited.

3 – At first the players for the USA didn’t like each other because of where they were from, so basically they overcame a lot just to win the gold medal against Russia

Minnesota and Boston are two different places, but they are technically in the same country so they all had to play for the United States. It was a class “tomato/tomahto” situation and Herb Brooks was the right man to tell them they all hated communists a lot more than they hated guys who say “fer sher” instead of “oh yah kehd.”

It wasn’t until the infamous moment while they were all in a Finnish jail when Jim Craig started singing “I Will Survive” and everyone got up and started dancing that the parochial enmity dissolved. That was when the team came together and went through an amazing training montage where they did pushups and scored goals.

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In many ways, that was where the US really won the medal, in that jail cell where Dave Silk did the dance from Staying Alive and got everyone on their feet.

2 – Al Bundy once scored four touchdowns in a single game for Polk High School

The greatest! day! In sports history!

Bundy made All-City back in ’66.

1 – It wasn’t even for the gold medal can you even believe that???

Wait hold on folks! You thought they beat Russia for the gold medal? Come on! This was an easy one! Clearly you don’t know ANYTHING about hockey history folks.

They actually beat Finland, led by star player and famous Donald Trump supporter Teemu Selanne, who was only 9 years old at the time. Personally I don’t think it’s very impressive to beat a team of recent college graduates beat one with a 9 year old on it but maybe you feel different. After all, the IOC made the US play Finland the second the Russia game ended.

In the end, we all got those medals about it. Every American got one in the mail. I’m 58 years old by the way and I’m still obsessed with Russia blowing us up. I will never get over this game.

Man oh man they beat Russia once just four decades ago.

Wow. Do you believe in it? I almost can’t!

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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