Monday, February 22, 2010

30 years ago today, the "Miracle on Ice" is still remembered as the greatest moment in sports history

It takes a moment of epic magnitude to capture the hearts of an entire nation, not just sports fans. Even others around the world can be greatly inspired. While some of us were not born yet when one of the most memorable moments in American history took place, those that did not witness it have had plenty of ways to learn a lot about why it was.

As the 2010 Winter Olympic Games take place just 30 miles north of the border in Vancouver, undoubtedly I reflect back to 30 years ago today. That would be February 22, 1980. I was just a very little boy back then and hadn't even learned about the game of ice hockey yet. On this day, thanks to one of the greatest motivators and taskmasters as a head coach in the late Herb Brooks, he helped shape a group of 20 college age boys into men. He would make them into hockey players, those that not only dreamed of international glory, but were made true believers that anything can happen.

Brooks led the 1980 United States Olympic ice hockey team to one of the most monumental upsets since Winter Olympic competition began. Dubbed as "The Miracle on Ice", it would be their 4-3 comeback victory over Russia at the Olympic Center (re-named Herb Brooks Arena in 2005) in Lake Placid, New York. The world will never forget the name of this village of 2,600 people nestled in the Adirondack Mountains, a 5-hour drive north of New York City.

The Russians were considered the best hockey country in the world and were a powerhouse with their dominance in the Winter Olympics. Having won every gold medal since 1956, many teams feared them. As it turned out, Brooks had his American squad not be.

Want to see game highlights of the "Miracle on Ice" game from February 22, 1980? Five years ago, ESPN Classic re-aired it. This is a very condensed 7½ minute version
of the game.
(video courtesy: ABC Sports)

Despite Vladimir Krutov putting Russia (back then as the Soviet Union) ahead 1-0 and Sergei Makarov giving them a 2-1 advantage, leading scorer Mark Johnson pounced on a long rebound of Dave Christian's shot and tied the game as the clock ran out to end the first period. It would then lead to a controversial goaltender change as Russia head coach Viktor Tikhonov pulled legendary netminder Vladislav Tretiak in favor of backup Vladimir Myshkin. It would turned out to be Tikhonov's biggest mistake of his hockey career.

Despite Aleksandr Maltsev putting Russia back in front 3-2 in the second period, the Americans did not give up. Brooks had given a well-noted inspirational pregame speech, but here he warned his players that they'll never rest in their grave had they lost this game. Johnson would score again to knot the game at 3-3 with 11:21 left in the third period and captain Mike Eruzione would score the eventual winning goal with exactly 10 minutes remaining for a 4-3 United States lead.

Tension mounted and excitement built higher and higher as that game clock wound down. The crowd screaming and yelling, the birth of the "USA! USA! USA!" chants were born and goaltender Jim Craig held the fort to prevent Russia from ever scoring again that day. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the livecall made by Al Michaels on ABC Sports will be tattooed on the minds of Americans forever were said. "Five seconds left in the game... DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?! YES!"

The dream came true, despite all the political unrest of a superpower "Cold War" between the United States and Russia, our 1980 United States Olympic ice hockey team not only set off a celebration of what is still regarded today as the greatest sports moment in history, but it helped make struggling Americans in a deep recession believe in themselves in many aspects of life.

The United States would later win that improbable gold medal two days after the "Miracle on Ice" with a 4-2 win over Finland.

The story of this game has been documented in the print media such as being featured on the March 2, 1980 cover of Sports Illustrated, then a 1981 television movie called Miracle on Ice as well as a 2001 HBO documentary Do You Believe in Miracles? and finally Disney's movie presentation of Miracle was released on February 6, 2004 starring actor Kurt Russell in the leading role of Herb Brooks.

Kurt Russell delivered a memorable re-creation of Herb Brooks' pregame speech in the 2004 release of Miracle.
(video courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures)

Miracle provided the Hollywood ending.
(video courtesy: Walt Disney Pictures)

Unfortunately, Brooks tragically died in a car accident on August 11, 2003 while driving on Interstate 35 in Forest Lake, Minnesota. It was before Miracle made it to movie theaters. But Americans will never forget what he did to enable the Americans to defeat the heavily favored Russians. A life size statue was erected outside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota in his honor that same year. He would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2006.

Regardless if you are an American or from any other country, you have to be impressed with not only the fact the United States won, but HOW they did it 30 years ago today.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Six teams to open 2010-2011 season in Europe

The National Hockey League announced earlier today that a record six teams will open the 2010-2011 season in Europe. writer Dan Rosen fills us in on the details:

The NHL is expanding its foray overseas for the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere games.

What started as an experiment with the Kings and Ducks going to London to start the 2007-08 season has turned into three major events on the NHL schedule to start the 2010-11 season.

"The Premiere Games are a highly anticipated part of our season launch, and we are extremely pleased that six teams -- more than ever -- will open their season in Europe," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "With these games, nearly half of our Clubs will have participated in Premiere -- a testament to how excited our teams are to be playing before our outstanding fans in Europe."

A record six teams will be opening next season in three different European cities.

The Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild will play two regular-season games against each other at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland, on Thursday, Oct. 7 and Friday, Oct. 8.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks will square off for two games at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday, Oct. 8 and Saturday, Oct. 9.

The Boston Bruins and Phoenix Coyotes will play each other at O2 Arena in Prague, Czech Republic, on Saturday, Oct. 9 and Sunday, Oct. 10.

The NHL has played regular-season games in all three arenas before, but never all in the same season.

"The 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Games, featuring six participating clubs this year, represents our continued commitment to growing hockey outside of North America, further displaying the talent of the NHL players internationally," said Mike Ouellet, NHLPA Chief of Business Affairs. "Fans in Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic will have the opportunity to watch some of their own home-grown players competing in these regular season NHL games, which will certainly be a great experience for everyone involved."

This season, the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues opened in Stockholm, while the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks did the same in Helsinki. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators opened the 2008-09 season in Stockholm on the same days the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning were playing in Prague.

"I think it's going to be a great experience, to go back and play in your home country," Hurricanes defenseman and Finland native Joni Pitkanen told "I think it's good because we have three Finns (Pitkanen, Tuomo Ruutu, Jussi Jokinen), and we're playing the Wild and they have the same (Niklas Backstrom, Mikko Koivu, Antti Miettinen)."

As the current rosters stand, 18 players could be going back to their home countries with their respective NHL teams.

Backstrom will probably be the most recognizable player in Helsinki by local media and fans alike. He is a Helsinki native and a national team goalie. Koivu, Miettinen and Ruutu are also headed to the Olympics for Finland.

Coyotes' forwards and Czech natives Petr Prucha and Radim Vrbata already played in Prague two years ago when Prucha was with the Rangers and Vrbata was with the Lightning.

They could be going back with fellow countrymen Martin Hanzal, Robert Lang and Zbynek Michalek. Boston could be represented by Czech natives David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka.

Michalek and Krejci will play for the Czech Republic in the Olympics.

Douglas Murray would be the only Swede playing for the Sharks, but the Blue Jackets could have Kristian Huselius, Fredrik Modin, Sammy Pahlsson and Anton Stralman. Murray, Pahlsson and Modin are slated to play for Sweden in the Olympics.

"It's going to be huge games," Pitkanen said. "Once in a lifetime experience."

In regards to team-by-team coverage, only the Carolina Hurricanes held a live press conference to make the announcement.

video courtesy: Carolina Hurricanes

Also, each team focused on the common theme of participating players who are from the countries where they'll play those NHL Premiere games.

"To show your family and friends who you grew up with and who have been supporting you, helping you on the way here, it's a nice thing to show them some NHL hockey," Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom told Glen Andresen, the Managing Editor of

"My father likes hockey, but he's never been here to watch games. He's never flown in his life," Backstrom's teammate Antti Miettinen said. "He doesn't like airplanes, so I'm excited that he'll probably be there. To play in front of friends and family is going to be great."

The Minnesota Wild's Finnish players react to the news they will have that "once in a lifetime" chance to play an NHL game in their native country. (video courtesy: Minnesota Wild)

Even Wild head coach Todd Richards offered his perspective on the significance of his team starting next season in Finland.

"From a team-building standpoint, I think it's great that you're on the road and you get to spend some time with one another," Richards said. "I look at it as a great experience and a chance for your team to get out and be with one another."

Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards spoke to the media about his team opening next season overseas.
(video courtesy: Minnesota Wild)

Overall, this experience for these six teams will be something really special. It has for the other participating teams who have played such games in Europe in each of the last three years.

All six teams have posted their own news releases of the announcement.

Boston Bruins official news release (February 9):
Bruins to open 2010-2011 NHL season in Prague

Carolina Hurricanes official news release (February 9):
Hurricanes to open 2010-2011 season in Helsinki, Finland

Columbus Blue Jackets official news release (February 9):
Columbus Blue Jackets to open 2010-2011 season vs. Sharks in Stockholm, Sweden

Minnesota Wild official news release (February 9):
Hei Suomi!

Phoenix Coyotes official news release (February 9):
Phoenix Coyotes one of record six NHL teams that will face off in Europe to open the 2010-2011 regular season on October 7-10

San Jose Sharks official news release (February 9):
Sharks off to Sweden