Wednesday, February 24, 2010

30 Years Ago 12: Hyvää Huomenta

That means "good morning" in the Finnish language. And morning it was, when the U.S. hockey team began their last game at the 1980 Winter Olympics, on February 24, 1980. The opponent was Finland. Yesterday, I set the stage for this game.

Finland led 1-0 after one period. Then the teams traded goals in the second. At 6:30 of the second period, Mikko Leinonen scored for Finland, to re-take the lead by 2 to 1. From there, the game followed a similar pattern to that of the American victory over the Soviet team, two days earlier; the Finns scored no more goals.

Phil Verchota tied it again, when he scored at 2:25 of the third period. Then, Rob McClanahan gave the U.S. its first lead, with a goal at 6:05. For several minutes, the Americans were defending a 3-2 lead. The U.S. "killed" two penalties (i.e., prevented Finland from scoring while the Americans were short-handed), when Neal Broten was put in the penalty box for hooking at 6:48, followed by Dave Christian suffering a similar fate (for tripping) at 8:54.

Then, as the U.S. was trying to hold their lead in the last few minutes of the game, Verchota was penalized for roughing at 15:45. (All of these penalties are two-minute minor penalties.) In hockey lingo, that put Finland on a "power play", and gave them an excellent opportunity to score a tying goal. The ABC network, still getting no cooperation from international hockey officials, had to fit in a television commercial while play was going on.

Perhaps the most unsung of the heroes of that U.S. team was Mark Johnson. He played at the University of Wisconsin from 1976 to 1979, coached by his father, "Badger Bob" Johnson. Despite their close identification with Wisconsin, they were both Minnesota natives, a point important to some of us.

Mark Johnson led the U.S. team in scoring during the 1980 Olympics, with five goals and six assists. He went on to play 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, and is now head coach of women's hockey at his alma mater. Johnson is also head coach of the U.S. women's team at the current Vancouver Olympics.

Back to live TV, and we find out that Finland's power play opportunity had been turned against them. Johnson had performed a somewhat rare hockey feat, by scoring a goal while his team was short-handed. His goal, at 16:25, with an assist from Steve Christoff, put the U.S. ahead by two, which was how the game ended, with a 4-2 U.S. win.

ABC commentator Al Michaels had another soundbite to offer. But his "this impossible dream comes true!" is overshadowed by his "do you believe in miracles?" at the end of the Soviet game. Kind of like Buzz Aldrin's "magnificent desolation" after Neil Armstrong's "one giant leap for mankind".

Later that day, the Soviet Union crushed Sweden, by a score of 9 to 2. So, the U.S. won the goal medal, the USSR took silver, leaving the bronze medal to Sweden, with Finland shut out.

While each player on the top three teams got his own medal, only the team captains were supposed to appear on the stand to symbolically accept the medal for the team, and to hear the winning team's national anthem. American captain Mike Eruzione upset that plan, by waving to his teammates to join him at center stage. Americans, starved for a moment of unabashed patriotism, ate it all up.

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