Tuesday, February 9, 2010

30 Years Ago 4: A Flop on Broadway

It's time to continue my description of what I've (subjectively) called the greatest season in hockey (1979-80).

The U.S. was slated to host the 1980 Winter Olympics, at Lake Placid, New York, in February. The Soviet Union had begun to compete in Olympic hockey in 1956. From that year until 1976, the Soviets had on only one occasion failed to win the gold medal. The most recent previous American hosting of the games had been in 1960, at Squaw Valley, California. The Americans had upset the USSR for the gold on that occasion.

It was still true in 1980, that those who played the sport professionally, in the National Hockey League (NHL) or otherwise, were ineligible for the Olympics. The American team was made up of college hockey players who had not, yet at least, turned pro. Their coach also came from NCAA hockey, where he had won the Division I championship in 1979, with his Golden Gophers from the University of Minnesota. That coach was Herb Brooks.

Players from Russia and the other Soviet republics had not yet begun to play in the NHL. They maintained their amateur status according to international rules, by staying home and playing within their own country's system, paid for by the government. There were worldwide complaints that that made them professionals, and therefore it was unfair for them to face off against amateurs from the US, Canada, Finland, and other countries. But they were in compliance with the rules, and they won a lot of gold.

The USSR was, once again, the heavy favorite, as the Lake Placid Olympics approached.

The US team, as was the custom at that time, took a year off from college hockey, to play a series of pre-Olympic games over a period of several months. The climax of that schedule occurred 30 years ago today, when they played the Soviet team at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the Saturday before the Olympics began.

Once that day was over, it looked as though the Soviet Union's winning streak would continue. The USSR beat the American team by a score of 10 to 3. That game did not count in the Olympic standings, but it did not bode well for the upcoming games at Lake Placid.

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