Olympic Miracle on minds of both Russia, U.S. hockey teams

The 'Miracle On Ice' would change hockey for both Russia and the U.S. for decades to come....

The 'Miracle On Ice' would change hockey for both Russia and the U.S. for decades to come. (Courtesy)

Rob Longley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:15 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - By 2004, Western culture had made enough inroads here that all things North American were increasingly popular with the masses.

Movies and music were all part of the invasion, of course, and Russians couldn't get wait to devour the new material.

Well most of it, anyway, with the exception of a certain hockey flick with a story so slick it has been done twice, most recently in a Walt Disney release a decade ago.

In a recent speech by Dmitry Chernyshsnko, the president of the Sochi Olympics organizing committee probably spoke for generations of hockey fans with his analysis of one of those big-screen films in particular.

"He said that as a child there were three horror films he knew from the West," IOC offical Mark Adams recalled the other day. "One was Nightmare on Elm Street, the second one was Friday the 13th and the third, was Miracle On Ice."

There won't be a need for a miracle for another such victory, thanks in large part to what that game helped do for American hockey. But Saturday's meeting between the two super powers has been one of the most anticipated events of these Games.

The "Miracle", of course, has been the greatest story in the history of USA Hockey, the impetus for generations of players and the genesis of the contending team we see here today. That monumental 4-3 upset of the Russians at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics will never get old for Stars and Stripes hockey fanatics.

And 34 years later, one of the most stunning upsets in the history of the sport, a saga so incredible and so unbelievable that it was almost scripted for the big screen, has found the spotlight again.

"In 1980, it was a good lesson that the Americans taught us," Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, his country's general manager and president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. "You have to respect your competitors and, only after the game, can you tell what you think about them. We did not have respect for them at that time, but that won't happen during this Olympics."

The Cold War rivalry has thawed somewhat, but that Soviet loss to a bunch of college students, was historic on multiple levels, including that it was the only defeat in a 24-year Olympic run that saw the Soviets win seven golds between 1964 and 1988.

But in so many ways, one seminal game changed the history of the sport in both countries. It was that backdrop that Russia and the U.S. took into their Saturday contest, just the sixth meeting since that iconic contest.

It's a far different beast at these Games, clearly, with each lineup loaded up and down with NHL players.

A Canada-Russia gold-medal contest might top it, but for now this will be centre stage at the Bolshoy Ice Palace where a passionate crowd of 12,000 will be rocking with the Russian hockey chant, "Shaybu, Shaybu."

Since Lake Placid, the two countries have played five times at the Olympics, with the Americans winning just once and one ending in a tie. The most recent meeting took place at the Turin Games in 2006, with Russia winning 5-4.

The buildup to Saturday's game has brought back the memories and the stories of that day in the tiny New York resort town. And the Russian ones are at least as interesting as the American versions.

There are the classic tales, for example, of dozens of empty vodka bottles being strewn about the Russian hotel rooms. And the later reports of at least one silver medal found in a garbage can.

"We have to give it to the U.S. team," Tretiak said. "In 1980, it was a miracle and, in fact, it made it possible for ice hockey to develop so fast in the United States and gave it great impetus."

There's no disputing Tretiak's point there. The effect of the Miracle is not lost on the American players here, even though none of them were even born when the game was played. And the current players have been equal parts respectful of the past and hoping they can bring back gold for the first time since the Lake Placid triumph.

"What those guys did in 1980 -- it's outstanding," St. Louis Blues defenceman David Backes said. "It's amazing what they were able to do and to come together as amateurs beat professionals with all the political side notes that were going on at that time.

'But that's 34 years ago and we've got a crew that would love to write our own chapter and maybe give the generation of kids that's playing hockey today something else to look forward to or strive to repeat. That's some motivation we have. But we've got to take it one game at a time and in the end that will take care of itself."

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

It may be 34 years since the Miracle on Ice, but interestingly, two personalities affiliated with Team USA have some well-documented ties to Russian hockey.

Start with Ray Shero, an assistant general manager with Team USA. His late father, Fred, of course, was a legendary coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and a disciple of Russian hockey.

“My father was a big fan of the Russian way of playing hockey,” Shero said. “He studied Russian hockey and brought their techniques back to the National Hockey League, even back in the 1960s.”

Then there is American captain Zach Parise, whose father J.P. played for Canada in the legendary 1972 Summit Series vs. the Soviets.

“Playing against (the) Russians in 1972 was the highlight of his career,” Zach Parise said. “It was a lesson for us; they played so differently. (In the first game), the Canadians expected to beat them and really saw the talent that the Russians had.

“It really changed ice hockey in North America, seeing how they played.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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