Showdown between Russia and USA stirs memories of the "Miracle on Ice"

A showdown between heavyweights USA and Russia is always one of the most eagerly awaited and keenly contested events on the ice hockey calendar, and when the ultimate prize is an Olympic gold, the stakes are even higher. As the two great rivals prepare to lock sticks again on 15 February at Sochi’s Bolshoi Ice Dome, we recall a previous encounter that produced one of the most dramatic moments in Winter Olympic history.

Russia are seeking to win their first Olympic gold in the ice hockey since Albertville in 1992. Meanwhile, the Americans have to go back over three decades for their last success, to Lake Placid 1980. During those Games, against all the odds, the US hosts defeated the Soviet Union in a match that has gone down in history as “the Miracle on Ice”.

"That was absolutely incredible," said Ray Shero, who is the acting general manager of the US hockey team at Sochi 2014. “The two teams had played two weeks earlier in New York at Madison Square Garden and the Soviets won and it wasn't even close. “To think they had any opportunity to even get to that point to play the Soviets in a meaningful game in the Olympics was hard to imagine.”

Although competing on home ice, the USA men’s ice hockey team went into Lake Placid 1980 as very much the underdogs.  Coached by Herb Brooks and consisting of mainly college players, they posted one of the biggest Olympic upsets of all-time by beating a Soviet Union team that had won almost every world championship and Olympic title since 1964. The USA went on to claim the gold medal by beating Finland in their final match of the tournament, while the Soviet team won the silver.

In 1999, the US magazine Sports Illustrated named the "Miracle on Ice" as the top sporting moment of the 20th Century. And in 2004 it was even immortalised on the silver screen, in a Hollywood movie called "Miracle".

Early in the game Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov took the surprising decision to replace Vladislav Tretiak - universally regards as the geatest goaltender in the world - and replace him with an untested backup. The US team took full advantage, as forward Mike Eruzione went on to score the winning goal for a 4-3 victory.

Goosebumps for SuterAmerican Olympic team defenceman Ryan Suter's father, Bob, was a member of the 1980 team. Suter says when he was in elementary school he was a big hit with his classmates because he would bring his dad's Olympic medal to show-and-tell. “My teachers would want me to bring the gold medal in,” Suter said. “I still get goosebumps watching the movie.”

Suter, who plays in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild, says his dad rarely speaks about the 1980 Olympic win. “I actually learned about it through my teachers,” reveals Suter. “I ask him about the movie "Miracle" and he says 'it was a great tribute to (coach) Herb Brooks'.

“He always changes the subject and he starts talking to me about my kids or about the game we played the other night. He is very proud of it. He is just a quiet humble guy.”

A valuable lessonThree-time Olympic gold medal winner Tretiak is happier to expand on the subject. The goaltending legend says the shock defeat taught the Soviets a valuable lesson:  that you don't underestimate your opponents. “In 1980 it was a good lesson for us,” says Tretiak. “It taught us you have to respect your opponent. We did not have respect for the Americans at the time.”

Tretiak was part of the defining moment of that game when coach Tikhonov replaced him at the end of the first period when the score was tied at 2-2.  He was replaced by inexperienced Vladimir Myshkin, a decision which shocked players on both teams.

However, Tretiak is also keen to remind us the his team made amends four years later by winning gold at the Winter Games in Sarajevo. “In 1984 we managed to rectify our mistake,” adds Tretiak who lit the cauldron at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony.

Since 1980, USA and Russia have met five times in Olympic competition, with the USA winning just once, and one match ending in a tie.  In their most recent meeting, Russi a defeated the Americans 5-4 at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin.