Sunday, February 14, 2010

30 Years Ago 6: Gut-Czech

Things got no easier for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, after their opening-game tie against Sweden.

Their next opponent was another perennial European hockey power: Czechoslovakia. lists 259 natives of Czechoslovakia who have played in the National Hockey League (NHL). But only one of those players had done so before the 1980 Olympics. That was Stan Mikita, whose family had emigrated to Canada after World War II.

Elite hockey players in Czechoslovakia maintained the amateur status that was then necessary to play Olympic hockey, in a system similar to that of the Soviet Union, as I described here.

That might have created a mismatch against the true amateurs from the United States.

But, as of the end of the first period, the U.S. team was hanging in there. A brother combination who went on to become some of the pioneering Czechoslovakian players in the NHL, tied it for Czechoslovakia at 2-2. Marian Stastny scored at 12:07 of the first, off an assist from his brother Peter.

The U.S. then broke the game open with second-period goals by Buzz Schneider and Mark Johnson. Then, in the third, Phil Verchota and Schneider made it 6 to 2. Both sides scored one more (Rob McClanahan for the U.S. at 10:54 of the third), so the U.S. won by a score of 7 to 3.

In retrospect, it has to be considered one of the top two American victories (don't want to get too far ahead of the story, here) of the Olympics.

People started to, as someone would say on television later on, believe in miracles.

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