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On This Date in Sports February 28, 1960: The Forgotten Miracle

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The United States wins its first-ever Olympic Gold Medal in Ice Hockey, completing a perfect 7-0 record in the Squaw Valley Olympics with a 9-4 win over Czechoslovakia. Trailing 4-3 entering the third period, Team USA erupted for six goals in the final 20 minutes, highlighted by Roger Christian, who had a four-goal game. While Team USA, coached by Jack Riley, claimed Gold, Canada took home the Silver Medal, while the Soviet Union settled for the Bronze Medal.

The 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, was the second winter Olympics held in the United States, following the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. At the time, Canada was the powerhouse in Olympic Hockey as they had won six of the first seven hockey golds, including the first one played in the summer games in 1920 at Antwerp, Belgium. The only blemish was in 1936 when Great Britain, composed chiefly of Canadians living in the UK, was the surprise winner. In 1956, things began to shift in Olympic Hockey as the Soviet Union claimed its first title.

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Team USA’s hockey history was solid, though they never took home the Gold Medal; they had won Silver five times, including the winter games in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, and in 1956 at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. Heading into the games in Squaw Valley, the Americans were considered a longshot for gold, though they would get a big boost for the crowds inside the intimate Blyth Arena.

Coached by Jack Riley, the Americans had a deep and talented team led by a pair of brothers Bill and Bob Cleary and Bill and Roger Christian. In the opener of group play, the Americans fought off a stiff challenge from Czechoslovakia, winning 7-5 in a back and forth battle. After a 12-1 win over Australia, Team USA advanced to the medal round against a round-robin tournament with the top six teams.

After starting the medal round with a 6-3 win over Sweden and a 9-1 win over West Germany, Team USA met their most significant challenge on February 25th, facing Gold Medal favorite Canada. Goalie Jack McCarten had the game of his life that day, stopping 39 of 40 shots as Team USA stunned the Canadians 2-1 with goals from Bob Cleary and Paul Johnson. Two days later, the United States all but clinched the Gold Medal with a 3-2 win over the Soviet Union as Bill Christian scored the game-winner with five minutes left.

In the finale, the United States faced Czechoslovakia for the second time and trailed by one goal entering the third period. Roger Christian, who briefly scored in the second period to give the United States a 3-2 lead, scored the equalizer six minutes into the final period starting a United States onslaught. Bob Cleary gave Team USA the lead just under two minutes later, adding a second goal to make it 6-4 four minutes later. Cleary’s second goal would be the start of three goals in 67 seconds that put the game away, with Roger Christian completing the hat trick, followed by a goal from Bill Cleary. Roger Christian would complete the scoring with his fourth goal with 2:04 left on the clock. Team USA had a 9-4 win over the Czechs with six goals in the third period, leaving Squaw Valley with a perfect 7-0 record.

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Canada, who lost to Team USA, would get the Silver Medal later that day, beating the Soviet Union 8-5. Canada posted a 6-1 record during the games, while the Soviets captured the Bronze Medal with a 4-2-1 mark.

The 1960 Team USA success has largely been overshadowed by the 1980 team. A team with deep roots in the 1960 Gold Medal team as Herb Brooks was the last player cut, while Dave Christian, a member of the 1980 team, is the son of 1960 member Bill Christian.