Miracle? -- On Ice

by Peg Coleman

Selection of the coach and team members for the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team took place against a backdrop of disillusionment in the United States.

Opening scenes of the movie `Miracle' were of a black and white montage of political events from the early 1960's to the time just preceding the 1980 Winter Olympics, which were held in Lake Placid, New York. The pain of Viet Nam, the Kent State shootings of student protesters, the failed rescue attempt of US hostages in Iran, and the Russian invasion of Afghanistan were dominating our news, and our lives.

The mood in the US was one of disappointment and unrest. Against that backdrop, the wonder and spectacle that had surrounded previous Olympics was not present as people became increasingly introspective, less hopeful, and more disenchanted with things as they were in the country and the world.

As the opening scenes of the movie unfolded I was taken back to that time; worrying about family members and friends going to war, fear that the world was at the brink of a disaster politicians would not be able to pull us back from. All of those feelings mixed with a deep desire and hope for a better future—but finding few external signs to support that hope.

The coach chosen to select and train the US team was a man named Herb Brook. Herb was from my home state of Minnesota and had coached the University of Minnesota Hockey Team, earning a reputation for success that was known and respected throughout the hockey community in the U.S. Team members were selected from among the best college players at the time, with the main concentration selected from schools in Minnesota and Boston—kids who had only known each other as rivals throughout their college years!

Although the new U.S. team members had played against each other as rivals with all the intensity that carries with it, they were being asked to put all of that behind them to begin to work together as a team.

These kids were expected to become a team in a matter of months and to compete against what would, these days, be considered professional hockey teams from Europe. Many of the European players had been together for years. Many of those teams were government funded, much in the way of a professional team. The most celebrated team, and the dominant Olympic Gold winner for years was the Russian team. Seemingly unstoppable, they `were feared by all'…or ALMOST all.

Herb Brook proved to be a man with a vision and he needed to be. Questioned from the beginning by the US Olympic committee about everything from his choice of team members to his methods of training, he was almost fired. As he pushed the team harder and harder and still harder in practice after practice, even his own, personally chosen assistant almost walked out on him, feeling he demanded too much from the boys.

But Herb had studied the Russian team for years and knew that their strength lay in their actual physical fitness. They could out-skate their competition. Even if they did not play brilliantly, (which they usually did), they could skate the legs off their competition and then, once their opponents were absolutely bone weary, beat them to the goal time after time, winning in the end.

Herb knew he could not take a team of disconnected college kids in varying states of physical fitness into a match up with players of this caliber and have any hope of winning any medal, let alone the gold. And he wanted to win. More than anyone could fathom, he wanted this team to win. He had a vision for this team that drove him to demand more from them in training than they knew they had in them. He pushed them, he tried them, then pushed them again just when they thought they had reached their limit and could give no more. But they gave, and gave and gave again. Until, at last, they began to see as he was seeing.

They began to see that to win they needed more than merely being in top physical form. They needed to be a team. They could not continue to view each other as the old college rivals they had once been, but had to put those times far behind them, and enter into this new, committed relationship where each member was vitally important to the other one. He wanted them to become part of one another. He wanted them to know each other so well they could anticipate each other's movements as though they were their own. He wanted them to be strong and fit and full of energy—able to stay the course through to the end.

The U.S. team did the unthinkable that year; they overcame the "unstoppable" world dominant Russian team and went on to win Olympic Gold.

Twenty-four years later I was thrilled by the win! The audience was cheering and clapping as though we had just witnessed the win ourselves. For just a moment we seemed to share a sense of understanding of those times and just what that win meant as a spark of hope to our nation. For here we were, 24 years later, our world unsteady, our country again engaged in a war that divided us. Many of us were questioning the leadership of our country. Corporate management decisions were made that destroyed the life savings of thousands of people.

We could recognize the hope those fans felt at that moment. We wanted to know it for ourselves, in the midst of all that our country was once again facing. We wanted to believe that things could be put right again.

That win did not right the world, but it did seem to flame a spark of hope and the sense of new possibilities of all kinds that had seemed almost extinguished by the turmoil of past years. It lived again in that theater, that night.

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