The U.S. Olympic hockey team, told by its coach before the game, "the moment is yours," stunned the defending champion Soviet Union tonight, 4-3, and took a giant step toward the gold medal.
The U.S. won on a 20-foot wrist shot by team captain Mike Eruzione, whose name means "eruption" in Italian, with 10 minutes remaining.
"I still can't believe this has happended," Eruzione said.
The United States, seeded seventh in the 12-team field at the start of the competition, clinched at least a bronze medal with the victory. Following the 3-3 tie between Sweeden and Finland in last night's other game, based on the complicated point system for this tournament, the United States has three points, Sweden and the Soviet Union two each and Finland one.
A victory against Finland by the United States Sunday would clinch the gold for the Americans regardless of the outcome of the Soviet Union-Sweden game. If the U.S. and Finland tie, a tie in the other, later game would give the gold to the U.S., as would a victory by the Soviets.A win by Sweden in that game, however, would give the gold to that country on the basis of goal differential. Sweden and the U.S. tied in their head-to-head encounter.
None of the Americans was concerned about ifs tonight. They were basking in the glory of what must be considered the most important U.S. victory in the history of this country's participation in international hockey.
After Eruzione scored, this young, game U.S. team held off a Soviet six that had not lost an Olympic hockey contest since 1968, and had not lost the gold since 1960, a team that had won 21 straight Olympic games before tonight.
This dramatic victory was accomplished because Mark Johnson, whose father Bob coached the U.S. team in 1976, scored two goals, tying the game at 2-2 and 3-3. The first came with one second showing on the clock at the end of the first period.
It was accomplished because goalie Jim Craig stopped 36 of the Soviet Union's 39 shots, many of them flatout phenomenal saves on a night when the Soviets outshot the Americans 39-16.
"He was a tower of strength for us, no question," said U.S. Coach Herb Brooks. "For an American team to be successful, the catalyst has to be the goalkeep . . . Craig told me yesterday, 'You wait, wait till tomorrow, Coach. You haven't seen it.'"
Tonight the Soviets saw it. They also an American team far different than the same bunch that lost, 10-3, to the Soviets in New York 13 days ago. t
The Soviets also saw fit to pull their goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, after Johnson's first goal. Vladimir Myshkin played the final 40 minutes and one second. He was the man Eruzione beat with the goal heard about around the hockey world.
It came with both teams at full strenfth, and the Soviets dominating play. The Americans were changing on the fly when Buzz Schneider dumped the puck into the Soviet zone. The Soviets couldn't get it out.
"I remember Mark Harrington worked the puck into the corner to (Mark) Pavelich," Eruzione recalled in a parking lot after the game, still slightly dazed by it all. "Pavelich (at
"Right now I'm a little confused, everything happened so fast. I don't think you can put into words what this means. But I know this, we can't forget we've got one game left. I'll be dammed if I'll let them get lazy now. We've one more day away from a dream."
The Soviets will have nightmares about this game for a long time, particularly about Johnson's goals.
His first, tying the score at 2-2, came as a result of sheer hustile, and just in time, as well. The clock was winding down when Dave Christian took a long line that Treliak kicked out with his pad.
But Johnson never gave up. He streaked through the two defenders, and slammed in a point-blank shot. Officials huddled for 30 seconds before the goal was allowed and the Soviets put in a mild protest that it had not been scored in time.
But afterwards, the Soviet assistant, Vladimir Urzinov, said at a press conference, it was a correct goal."
The Soviets, at that point, pulled Tretiak for the final second of the period -- and a faceoff -- in favor of Myshkin. "He (Tretiak) was not playing well in previous games," the Soviet coach said "and my feeling is he was probably too nervous at this tournament."
The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting the U.S., 12-2, and taking a 3-2 lead on Alesandr Maltsev's 10-foot shot at 2:18 of the period, and advantage that stood up going into the final 20 minutes.
Vladimir Krutov was whistled off the ice for high-sticking almost seven minutes into the final period, and the U.S. did indeed seize the moment, even if it did wait until nine seconds were left off the penalty to convert.
At that point, Dave Silk picked up a loose puck and whisked it toward the Soviet goal. His shot caromed off the skate of defenseman Sergei Starikov and, once again Johnson was the right man at the right place. He got his stick on the puck and stuffed it past Myshkin for the tying goat at 8:39 of the third period.
Eighty-one seconds later, Eruzione scored and his father Eugene, said "I almost slapped my wife off her chair."
The U.S. team was heaven-high at that point, and Brooks tried to bring them down to earth.
"I stressed we must stay with our system and our tactics," he said. "I've seen too many teams back off from the Soviets. We were getting kind of antsy, we started to dump the puck, we were starting to panic, and we had to calm them down."
The Americans never seemed to panic in the final five minutes. Only once did they ice the puck to ease the pressure the Soviets poured on at the end, and Brooks said he changed his checking system in the final 60 seconds to further bother the Soviets.
Craig, meanwhile, kept coming up with one brilliant save after another. With 8:15 remaining, he made a lunging skate save on a backhand shot by Vladimir Golikov, and there was another sweet stop on a backhander by Vladimir Petrov with 57 seconds remaining.
The Soviets spent the last minute of play, in fact, in the U.S., end but never pulled their goalie for an extra-man advantage. "We did not think we had the opportunity," the Soviet coach said.
When the U.S. finally did get the puck out of its zone with five seconds remaining, the crowd began to count down the final seconds. When the final horn sounded, players, coaches and team officials poured onto the ice and mobbed Craig. Mike Ramsey and Jack O'Callahan wrestled each other down and hugged in front of their bench.
And when it was over, it was left to Eruzione, the tough kid from Massachusette many professional scouts say is too slow and too small to play in their league, to explain what it all meant.
"I don't think you can put it into words," he said. "It was 20 guys pulling for each other, never quitting, 60 minutes of good hockey. I don't think we kicked their butts. We just won.
"It's a human emotion that indescribable."
Was it ecstacy? he was asked.
"That's not strong enough," he said. "We beat the Russians. We beat the Russians."