Mike Eruzione and the Making of a Miracle
In an excerpt from his new book, timed to the 40th anniversary of the US Olympic hockey team’s stunning upset of the Russians in 1980, BU alum, Olympic hockey hero, and US team captain Mike Eruzione takes readers inside the final desperate minutes of the game
I gathered the puck and turned toward the net, putting the puck on my forehand.
I was in the high slot—the exact same spot I had been in when I had scored in Madison Square Garden two weeks before, when I’d fired at the left post and beat the Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw both John Harrington and Billy Baker crashing toward the net.
The options came to me in a split second.
If the defenseman stayed, I’d use him as a screen to block the goalie’s view. He dropped to his knees to block the shot.
I had a screen.
I had an opportunity to make a play.
Moving to my right, I pulled the puck a bit and fired it back the other way.
Toward the left post.
“Just get it on net,” I said as I followed through on the shot. I lost the puck. I couldn’t see it. What I saw was the net.
The back of the net suddenly bulged out, punched back by something. It took a moment to realize it. But then I saw the fans behind the goal leaping up out of their seats, hands in the air, and I knew. The roar was deafening.
With every stop in play, the cheering revved up again. “USA! USA! USA!” There was incredible energy in the building, and it was going from us on the ice to the crowd, and they gave it right back to us in the chants and cheers. It was strange, though. When I was on the ice, I was so focused on playing that I couldn’t hear the crowd, I couldn’t hear anything. But when I was on the bench, the crowd, the “USA!” chant, was the only thing I could hear.
The Soviets gained control of the puck off the face-off and threw it into our zone, but Mike Ramsey cleared it. Harrington took the puck at center ice, skated in, and fired a wrist shot. The goalie gloved it, forcing another whistle and another face-off in their zone, with 3:23 left. Each face-off in their end was good for us. The more ice we could keep between the Soviets and our goalie Jim Craig [Wheelock’79], the better.
Mark “Magic” Johnson, Dave Silk [CAS’80, MET’92, Questrom’93], and Robby McClanahan went over the boards. They lined up against the three oldest guys the Soviets had. The two young guys who’d given us the most trouble were on the bench. This late in the game, I liked the matchup.
The Soviets again took the puck into our zone, but they couldn’t even get a shot off. They were gasping for air. Bill Baker stole the puck and carried it out. At the far blue line, a whistle. We went offsides, but it was another chance to catch a breather and change lines.
There was 2:31 left to play. Our coach Herb Brooks kept rolling four lines. The Soviets got control of the puck, but our guys swarmed them, bottled the Soviets into their own zone. Frustrated and tired, the Soviets iced it.
Now there was just 1:59 to play and another line change. Mark Wells’s line came to the bench, and my line went out for the face-off. They got control and threw the puck out to center ice. Billy Baker threw it right back in. Steve Christoff chased the Soviets on the forecheck—and they did it again. The Soviets iced it. The greatest hockey team in the world was behind by a goal in the Olympics, and they were panicking.
Only 1:29 to play now. The crowd was going insane, on their feet, cheering as loud as ever. “USA! USA! USA!” No one was sitting. Mark Johnson’s line replaced us. Again they lined up against the same guys: Herb held one finger up in the air to remind Mark, Dave, and Robby to send only one forward into the Soviet zone on the forecheck. The other two should stay back. Be smart. Be defensive.
I sat on the bench, my chest heaving after my shift. I was thinking that the Soviets would try to get the puck into our end and then pull their goalie for an extra attacker on this shift. That’s what you do when you’re down by a goal with a minute left: you pull the goalie. If we had been trailing, Herb would have brought Jimmy Craig back to the bench and tried to get Mark Johnson on the ice as much as possible. We had a plan for this situation. But had the Soviets ever been down with a minute left? Had they ever had to pull their goalie?
The Soviets won the face-off. Vladimir Petrov carried the puck to our blue line and slid the puck into the zone. It had barely enough steam to reach the net, and Jimmy just pushed it to the corner. But it counted as a shot on goal. In fact, it was incredible. It was the first shot on goal the Soviets had gotten in more than four minutes. This was the high-powered Soviet team that had averaged ten goals a game. In the most crucial part of the game, we held the Soviets without a shot for almost five minutes.
Thirty seconds left. Petrov got the puck at the red line and fired a slap shot at Jimmy—again from seventy feet away. It might as well have been from 170 feet away. Jimmy saw it all the way, came out, and kicked it to the boards. We didn’t realize it then, but that would be the Soviets’ final shot on goal of the game. In the final six minutes, they got three shots on Jimmy—one was actually a dump-in that barely amounted to a shot. The other two were slap shots by Petrov from outside the blue line. Herb had told us to think of the game in five-minute segments. In the last of those segments, the Russians didn’t get a single shot from inside our zone.
I was standing up on the bench now, yelling to the guys on the ice. “Come on, get it out!” We were all yelling, banging our sticks on the boards. Herb was just behind us, still staring with no hint of emotion.
Ten seconds left. I wasn’t ready to celebrate yet. We had scored against Sweden in the last minute. “Get it out! Get it out!” I was saying to myself. “It’s not over until we get it out.”
They did it again. The soviets iced it. The greatest hockey team in the world was behind by a goal in the olympics, and they were panicking.
Ken Morrow got to the puck along the boards. On the broadcast, Al Michaels described the final play: “Morrow…up to Silk, five seconds left in the game…” The puck slid over the blue line.
“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!”—one of the greatest calls in sports.
Everyone charged over the boards. Dave Christian and Billy Baker got to Jimmy first and knocked him to the ice. Neal flung his stick straight up into the air. I whipped mine around and let it go to the rafters. Somehow Neal Broten and I came together behind the pile and hugged as sticks clattered back down. Jack O’Callahan [CAS’79] and Mike Ramsey hugged and fell to the ice, Rammer on his back, Jack kneeling with his arms thrust into the air, shouting out in jubilation, revealing his missing teeth. It is that scene, with OC and Rammer in the foreground and the pile on Jimmy in the background, that would become the picture everyone remembers, the picture that comes to everyone’s mind when they hear “Miracle on Ice.”
“It took a moment. But then I saw the fans behind the goal leaping up out of their seats…and I knew. The roar was deafening.”
It was delirious. Steve Christoff hugged Mark Pavelich. Baker swung his arms around Craig Patrick. I left Neal and found Robby. Rammer got up and hugged Steve Janaszak. OC turned to find someone to grab and shake. Herb wasn’t on the ice with us. The second the game had ended, he had left the bench and disappeared down the tunnel.
On the ice, I looked at the scoreboard, and one thought ran through my mind.
I can’t believe it, I said to myself even as I hugged one teammate and the next and the next.
I can’t believe it.
I can’t believe we beat the Russians.
The Russians. They watched, stared, from their blue line.
They were probably asking themselves the same thing: Did this really just happen? Finally we got ourselves together and lined up for the postgame handshake. I think maybe the Soviets were somehow relieved. Maybe they could finally go back home and relax and be just another hockey team, not have to be perfect all the time. Maybe it was a relief to them, because I swear, a couple of the Soviets in that handshake line were almost smiling.
Then the four of us found one another. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. OC got to Jimmy first. Dave Silk joined them, throwing his left arm around Jimmy’s shoulders and his right around Jack’s. I was the last to arrive. A photographer caught the moment. The four of us are practically nose to nose. Silky is on the right, reaching behind Jimmy, grabbing my jersey, pulling me in. I’m on the left, shouting with joy. Jimmy’s back is to the photographer, his face obscured, but the blue nameplate with “CRAIG” in white letters stands out on his jersey. Jack, in the center, is smiling, a gloved hand patting my head.
The BU four.
You ask any one of us about that photo, and I guarantee you’ll get the same response: “Sometimes you gotta get regional.”
Mike Eruzione (Wheelock’77) is director of special outreach at BU. Neal E. Boudette (COM’84) is a reporter for the New York Times. He lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.
This excerpt was reprinted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers.
Eruzione will sign copies of his new book, The Making of a Miracle, during the BU men’s ice hockey game against Merrimack at Agganis Arena, 925 Commonwealth Ave., on Friday, February 7. The game begins at 7 pm. Eruzione will be in the Francis D. Burke Club Room at 6:15 pm, before setting up next to the Barnes & Noble corner of the concourse just before the game and during the first intermission. He will be joined by Neal Boudette.
What a glorious moment for US Hockey !!!!!
I’m sure you decided to feature him before you knew he was going on stage at a Trump rally wearing a MAGA hat? You’d be much better served to feature AOC.
Way to go, Mike, no matter who you may or may not support politically, I like many others thank you and your teammates for what you did for BU, for hockey, and for the United States!
Awesome. Simply awesome — even 40 years later.
This story is what America is about. My dad drove the charter bus all the players rode on at one point during the games and signed the program he had. He said of all the teams he drove, the hockey guys were the best. Thanks for all your hard work and bringing home the gold.
Dear Hockey Friends,
My Uncle, Taffy Abel 1900-1964, was Captain of the USA Hockey Team at the 1st ever Winter Olympics in 1924. Team USA took the Silver.
Canada (essentially the Toronto Granite semi pro team) took the Gold with a score of 6 to 1. Many on team USA were from Boston. I have film of the game and it was a brutal game … “An Almost Miracle On Ice”
This was a game that brought the attention of Hockey to the American public.
My Uncle went on to play in the NHL and helped win 2 Stanley Cups. New York Rangers and Chicago Black Hawks,
Clarence John Abel was a poor Native American (Sault Tribe of Chippewas) and the first such in the NHL. However, the NHL has failed to recognize him and his Native American heritage. Almost like the MLB not recognizing Jackie Robinson in 1947 or today.
I hope some courageous people in the Hockey World and Hockey Sports Writers will bring recognition and racial justice for Taffy Abel. He was a great man and a great Uncle.
My congratulations to Mike on his new book,
George Jones – Age 71