Before the Wheaties boxes, before the Sports Illustrated covers, before the Hollywood film that immortalized the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team, there was the team twenty years ago, that pulled off the original, “Forgotten Miracle” at Squaw Valley, defeating the Soviets 3-2 en route to their first Olympic Gold and the International Hockey Lineal Championship.
With both teams coming off big wins in their prior Medal Round Games, with the U.S. narrowly beating Canada 2-1 and the Soviets crushing Germany 7-1, many expected a quick blowout by the Soviets to win their second straight Olympic Gold. But it was the Americans who struck first, with Bill Cleary wristing a low shot past Soviet goalie Nikolai Puchkov, playing quite far out of his crease, to take the lead just 4:04 into the game. The Soviets quickly expelled the fire, however, as Veniamin Alexandrov evened things up 59 seconds later with a tip-in of a Nikolai Sologubov shot past U.S. keeper Jack McCartan to even the score.
The Soviets would add one more before intermission, with a mid-air deflection of a Vladimir Grebennikov shot by Mikhail Bychkov to slip past McCartan, putting the USSR ahead 2-1 after twenty minutes, outshooting the Americans 16-10. But the Americans would fight back hard in the second, remarkably only holding the Soviets to eight shots, while one of the Americans’ ten shots converted halfway through the third, with a Roger Christian pass springing his brother Bill on a brekaway, who again beat Puchkov, playing far out of the crease, with a short side wrister to even things at 2-2 after forty minutes.
And while the Americans did an even better defensive job in the third, holding the Soviets to only five shots while peppering fourteen on Puchkov, the Soviet defence and Puchkov in particular were doing all they could to keep the Americans at bay, as even a tie would put them in a three-way tie for first place in the Medal Round with the U.S. and Canada on the final day of competition. But with just 5:01 to go in the third, it was the Christian brothers striking again, with Bill Christian knocking in a Tommy Williams rebound (off a pass from brother Roger) at close range past Puchkov to take the sudden 3-2 lead. The arena went crazy, and the U.S. defence held the Red Army back in the final minutes to win in a stunning upset, 3-2, over the seemingly invincible Soviet team.
With the win, coupled with a 9-4 win over Czechoslovakia the next morning (supposedly with strategic assistance from the Soviets, hoping their Czech brethren would avoid a win), the U.S. won their first ever Olympic Gold Medal in hockey, and became the third straight team to unify Olympic Gold and the International Hockey Lineal Championship – for more, check out the IHLC @ Olympics & Invitationals page. The U.S. win was the start of their sixth IHLC reign, their first since the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
The USSR entered the Squaw Valley Games as IHLC champions, tallying lopsided wins over Germany and Finland in the Group Round, and wins over Czechoslovakia, Germany, and a tie with Sweden in the medal round, before losing the IHLC to the Americans. This was just the fourth IHLC meeting between the Soviets and Americans, and the first ever win for Team USA over the Red Army in five years, having lost their prior three games by a combined score of 11-1.
04:04 – GOAL – W. Cleary (R. Cleary)
05:03 – GOAL – Alexandrov (Sologubov)
09:37 – GOAL – Bychkov (Grebennikov)
10:41 – PEN – Sidorenkov, tripping
31:01 – GOAL – W. Christian (R. Christian)
34:57 – PEN – Sologubov, tripping
38:25 – PEN – R. Christian, slashing
43:50 – PEN – R. Cleary, tripping
45:48 – PEN – Grebennikov, interference
54:59 – GOAL – W. Christian (Williams, R. Christian)
W: McCartan (27-29)
L: Puchkov (31-34)
SHOTS ON GOAL
10+10+14 = 34
16+8+5 = 29
Goaltenders: Jack McCartan, Lawrence Palmer. Defence: William Christian, John Kirrane (C), John Mayasich, Edwyn Owen (A), Rodney Paavola. Forwards: Roger Christian, Robert Cleary, William Cleary, Paul Johnson, Robert McVey, Weldon Olson (A), Richard Rodenheiser, Tommy Williams.
Goaltenders: Nikolai Puchkov, Yevgeni Yerkin. Defence: Yuri Baulin, Alfred Kuchevski, Genrikh Sidorenkov, Nikolai Sologubov (C). Forwards: Veniamin Alexandrov, Alexander Almetov, Mikhail Bychkov, Vladimir Grebennikov, Yevgeni Groshev, Konstantin Loktev, Stanislav Petukhov, Yuri Tsitsinov, Viktor Yakushev.