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On This Date in Sports February 24, 1980

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Team USA beats Finland 4-2 to win the Gold Medal in Hockey at 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Two days after beating the Soviets in the Miracle on Ice, the Americans needed one more win for the Gold and had to do it by coming from behind again with three goals in the third period. It would be Team USA’s second hockey gold, as the Soviets won Silver and Sweden took the Bronze.

It was the most shocking of results in the history of sports on February 22, 1980, as a ragtag American hockey team defeated the Soviet Union 4-3. The Soviets had arguably the best hockey team in the world, a team that dominated the NHL All-Stars a year earlier, a team that routinely beat the NHL’s best in exhibitions. Expected to easily win a fifth straight Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics, the Soviet Union was seen as unbeatable as they had only lost one game since being upset by Team USA in the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley.

Hockey at the Winter Games in 1980 had a round robin format, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the medal group. Team USA faced a big test early as they needed a last-minute goal to escape with a 2-2 tie against Sweden on February 12th. Two days later, the Americans coached by Herb Brooks earned their first win with a 7-3 upset win over second-ranked Czechoslovakia. From there Team USA went on a roll, beating Norway 5-1, Romania 7-2 and West Germany 4-2 to finish Group Plays with a record of 4-0-1.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union stomped their way through Group Play beating Japan 16-0 in their Olympic opener. The Soviets followed it up with a 17-4 win over the Netherlands, and an 8-1 win over Poland. Against Finland, the Soviets showed the ability to rally late, scoring three late third period goals in a 4-2 Canada also provided a slight scare for the USSR machine, holding a 3-2 lead after two periods. However, the Red Machine continued its march to the medal round scoring four times in the third to win the game 6-4, finishing Group Play 5-0.

The medal round is where the miracle happened, as Team USA with third-period goals by Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione beat the Soviets 4-3. Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland skated to a 3-3 tie setting the stage for the final day of competition at XII Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

Simply put Team USA needed a win to get the Gold Medal, as the Soviet Union with more wins and a bigger goal differently would win any tiebreaker, especially after a 9-2 stomping of Sweden in their final game. Finland needed a win just to get a medal after their tie against Sweden and earlier loss to the USSR, which counted in the medal round standings.

Hoping to avoid a letdown, Team USA got off to a slow start as Jukka Povari scored in the first period to give Finland a 1-0 lead. The Americans tied the game in the second period on an unassisted goal by Steve Christoff, but the Fins answered two minutes later with a power-play goal by Mikko Leinonen to again take the lead. Down 2-1 at the start of the third period, the Miracle Men were right where they wanted to be. Just 2:25 into the third-period Team USA got the equalizer from Phil Verchota, four minutes later Team USA had the lead with a goal Rob McClanahan. From there it was up to Jim Craig, who again was rock steady in goal, stopping 21 shots, while Mark Johnson provided some breathing room with a shorthanded goal with 3:35 left to make the final score 4-2 in favor of Team USA.

Team USA’s win over the Soviet Union was voted as the greatest sports moment of the 20th Century, but their win over Finland was just as important as it won the Gold Medal, and completed their miracle run to Olympic history.