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Russia, United States renew hockey rivalry

AFP-JIJI

The United States and Russia continue their quest for Olympic hockey gold with a preliminary round game Saturday and while it won’t match the drama of the “Miracle on Ice” it will be one of Sochi’s most watched contests.

Russia’s national hockey team is seeking to win their first gold medal since the 1992 Albertville Games while the Americans are hoping for their first gold since the “Miracle On Ice” victory at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980.

“That was absolutely incredible,” said Ray Shero, who is the acting general manager of the U.S. hockey team at the Sochi Games.

“They played two weeks earlier in New York at Madison Square Garden and the Soviets won and it wasn’t even close.

“To think they had any opportunity to even get to that point to play the Soviets in a meaningful game in the Olympics was hard to imagine.”

At the 1980 Olympics, an underdog American team, coached by Herb Brooks and consisting of mainly college players, posted one of the biggest Olympic upsets of all-time by beating the Soviet Union which had won almost every world championship and Olympics since 1964.

USA went on to claim the gold medal by beating Finland in their final match of the tournament, while the Soviets won the silver.

In 1999, American-based magazine Sports Illustrated named the “Miracle on Ice” as the top sports moment of the 20th century. A Hollywood movie, called “Miracle,” came out in 2004.

The Americans took advantage of the Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov’s bizarre decision to pull the “greatest goaltender in the world” Vladislav Tretiak early in the game and replace him with an untested backup which then led to U.S. forward Mike Eruzione scoring the winning goal for a 4-3 victory.

At the time the Soviet Union and American teams were also natural rivals because of the Cold War.

U.S. President Jimmy Carter was unhappy with the Soviet’s December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and was already considering a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.

American Olympic team defenceman Ryan Suter’s father, Bob, was a member of the 1980 team.

Suter says when he was in elementary school he was a big hit with his classmates because he would bring his dad’s Olympic medal to show-and-tell.

“My teachers would want me to bring the gold medal in,” Suter said. “I get goosebumps watching the movie.”

Suter, who plays in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild, says his dad rarely speaks about the 1980 Olympic win.

“I learned about it through my teachers,” Suter said. “I ask him about the movie “Miracle” and he says ‘it was a great tribute to (coach) Herb Brooks’.

“He always changes the subject and he starts talking to me about my kids or about the game we played the other night.

“He is very proud of it. He is just a quiet humble guy.”

Three-time Olympic gold medal winner Tretiak isn’t shy about discussing that day.

Tretiak says the shock defeat taught the Soviets a valuable “lesson” — that you don’t underestimate your opponents.

“In 1980, it was a good lesson for us,” said Tretiak. “It taught us you have to respect your opponent. We did not have respect for the Americans at the time.”

Tretiak was part of the defining moment of that game when coach Tikhonov pulled him at the end of the first period with the score tied 2-2. He was replaced by inexperienced Vladimir Myshkin which shocked players on both teams.

Tretiak says they vindicated that stunning defeat to the U.S. by winning gold four years later in the Sarajevo Olympics.

“In 1984, we managed to rectify our mistake,” says Tretiak who lit the cauldron at the Sochi opening ceremony.

Slap shots: Since the 1980 game, the U.S. and Russia have met five times, with the Russians winning three times and one match ending in a tie.

Here are some fun facts on their rivalry:

*During the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, the US national team, made up of mainly college players and led by coach Herb Brooks, defeated the Soviet Union, who had won nearly every world championship and Olympic tournament since 1964. As part of its 100th anniversary celebrations in 2008, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) chose the “Miracle on Ice” as the century’s number-one international ice hockey story.

*Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin were two of five different players to score as Russian defeated the United States 5-4 to finish second in their preliminary round group at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.

*In February 1960 at Squaw Valley, California, the U.S. beat the Soviet Union 3-2 in the semifinals on its way to its first Olympic gold medal in hockey. That U.S. team included two pairs of brothers, Bill and Bob Cleary, and Bill and Roger Christian. Bill Christian’s son, David, was a member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team.