Courtesy Of "Miracle On Ice"
The United States team entered the competition seeded seventh in the final round of twelve teams that qualified for the Lake Placid Olympics. The team was composed of young collegiate players and amateurs. The Soviet Union was the favored team. Though classed as amateur(they were all professional players, but the Soviet Government gave them different job titles to compete), Soviet players essentially played professionally in a well-developed league with excellent training facilities.
They were led by legendary players in world ice hockey, such as Boris Mikhailov, a right-wing and team captain; Vladislav Tretiak, considered by many the best ice hockey goaltender in the world at the time; as well as talented, young, and dynamic players such as defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forwards Vladimir Krutov, Sergei Makarov and Valery Kharlamov.
In exhibitions that year, Soviet club teams had gone 5–3–1 against NHL teams, and a year earlier the Soviet national team routed the NHL all-stars 6–0 to win the Challenge Cup. In 1979–80, virtually all the top North American players were Canadians although the number of US born professional players had been on the rise throughout the 1970s. The 1980 US Olympic team featured several young players who were regarded as highly promising, and some had signed contracts to play in the National Hockey League immediately after the tournament.
Coach Herb Brooks calms his players' nerves during the game.
The Soviet and American teams were natural rivals due to decades-old Cold War disputes. In addition, President Jimmy Carter was at the time considering a U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, to be held in Moscow, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began the year before. Carter eventually decided in favor of the boycott.
On February 9, the two teams met for an exhibition match in order to practice for the upcoming competition. The Soviet Union won 10–3.
In Olympic group play, the United States surprised many observers with their physical, cohesive play, starting with a 2–2 tie against Sweden and followed by a stunning 7–3 victory against a strong team from Czechoslovakia. The U.S. team finished with four wins and one draw to advance to the medal round. In the other group, the Soviets stormed through their opposition undefeated, often by grossly lopsided scores – knocking off Japan 16–0, the Netherlands 17–4, and Poland 8–1 – and easily qualified for the next round although both the Finns and the Canadian amateurs actually had the USSR on the ropes before collapsing in the final period. In the end, Sweden and Finland (who overcame a disastrous start after sensationally losing to lowly Poland in their opening game of the tournament) also qualified for the medal round after defeating Czechoslovakia and Canada, respectively.
The US and USSR prepared for the medal round in different ways. Coach Viktor Tikhonov of the Soviets rested most of his best players, preferring to let them study plays rather than actually skate. U.S. coach Herb Brooks, however, continued with his tough, confrontational style, skating "hard" practices, and berating his players for perceived weaknesses.
The day before the match, columnist Dave Anderson wrote in the New York Times, "Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments."