It’s the 30th anniversary of the United States’ improbable victory over the mighty Russian ice hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. Given the current U.S. team’s electrifying victory over Canada last night – sure it just was a preliminary round game, but it didn’t feel like one – it’s especially timely to celebrate it again.
And maybe to clear up some things that have been lost in the mythologizing of that event over the last three decades. Click the link for a good column by Joe Posnanski on SI.com, “10 Interesting Facts You May Not Know About the Miracle on Ice.”
And one thing that nobody’s writing, that I think is an interesting byproduct of the Miracle is that it set the stage for hockey to become popular in places where it didn’t have much of a skateprint.
Growing up in the South in the Fifties and Sixties, I didn’t have much opportunity to be exposed to this sport other than every four years in the Olympics. The NHL wasn’t on TV in South Carolina and as I started my daily newspaper journalism career in the Seventies in Myrtle Beach, we may have been the only paper in the state to put in the hockey scores and standings every day, as a concession to the transplanted Yankee retirees and “snowbirds.”
(As my editor in Pittsburgh once said when I went to work covering the Penguins for his newspaper, “I’ve got a hockey writer and the only ice he’s ever seen is in a glass of sweet tea.” I’ve always preferred to think that was a good-humored joke.)
Anyway, to return to the point, the Olympic brand of hockey was much more watchable than the NHL product of those years before the rise of Wayne Gretzky to stardom. Think of the old joke, “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” Not only was this our national team, but they played a tough game with grace and skill.
I’ve always thought that that game in 1980 planted a seed for the growth of the sport to non-traditional hockey markets, resulting a generation later in NHL teams in places like Nashville and Tampa and minor league teams in any decent-sized city needing to fill an arena’s open dates.