The sports I love the most are Ice Hockey and Basketball. I grew up playing hockey in Kentucky (which is like surfing in South Dakota) and just got back from Indy where I was playing hockey. One of the finer moments in last century that I wasn’t around for was the 1980 US Olympic team's "Miracle on ice" win. A few have mentioned it here – about the similarities of the powerful Soviet Union versus the weaker USA – the underdog vs. the heir apparent. But there is so much more that isn’t explained.
Here are a few of my reasons (besides the obvious 5 guys on the ice/court):
1: The Soviet Union was unbeatable.
At the time of the game, and all the way up to the tournament the Soviet Union was widely considered to be the best team in the world – with the best goalkeeper in the world, the best forwards in the world, the best defense in the world. This is similar to the UK team with the best… well talent on any team of this year, and arguably one of the better UK teams of all-time talent wise. As someone noted here [in the message thread] earlier – "I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great team the Soviets have." – Again: all season have we heard about how great that UK team is and how it would be a miracle if they were stopped.
2: Practice makes perfect.
The US team was led by a man who used "questionable" training (look at the scene where Herb Brooks screams "Again… again…") and believed in the foundation of a well conditioned team. He skated his players, ran harder practices and molded them in to a team. He also implemented a new style of play and pioneered hockey well after the 1980 team as a member of USA Hockey for decades. If I’m not mistaken a large part of the ADM (American Development Model, which is now bearing fruit in the form of U18 IIHL and other titles) can be traced back to his days at USA Hockey before his death, as well as coaches who have won titles at various levels (Mark Johnson actually won a NCAA Hockey Title with the Wisconsin Womens team) – not dissimilar to the mark that Pitino has indelibly left on the college basketball world with his numerous coach protégés, camps and players.
3: Lottery Picks vs. Blue (or Red) Collar
The US Hockey Team was not comprised of All-Stars, but guys willing to give everything to the coach for the sake of the team. UK is very much a team comprised of All-Stars, one and dones while U of L has been noted time and time again, especially in the post season, for their blue collar, can-do attitude as scrummers and opportunists. Pitino said it today on XM Radio: "I haven’t had one meeting this season with a player requesting more playing time, more touches, more opportunities to score and make a name; instead its what do I need to do for the team. What can I do to help win games."
Futhermore this UK team is based almost purely on talent. No disrespect to UK fans who may see this, but most of these guys were recruited for talent, not because they were going to be fit into a complex system as a cog. Pitino's method is the exact opposite. Again – here the US Hockey team was carefully crafted, rejecting the notion of using NHL players or even the best players out of the collegiate hockey system. While it did use good players, they were fit into the system – Herb's System.
4: Depth on the bench
Calipari talks about how much depth he has on a bench when four of his starters are over the 30 minute mark per game, with a fifth narrowly outside that mark, while Louisville only has two. The depth that Cal talks about (which I think he mentions frequently) is shallow, while at Louisville there was a joke last season that Pitino was changing lines. The US team was considerably deeper because it had to be – the top talent for the Soviet Union scored the goals, led the stat sheets while the rest of the team (albeit still talented) was relegated to lesser roles of getting it to their stars.
5: Rebounding Rules
To verify this you’d have to go there – but in USA Hockey's Colorado Springs Office they have a copy of Rebound Rules by Rick Pitino in their Library. I’ve been, so you’ll just have to trust me. I wonder if Rick has a copy of Miracle in his DVD collection – I’m willing to bet he does.
The Miracle on Ice was in 1980. One of Louisville’s National Title was in 1980. My sister alerted me yesterday to the fact that its 80’s week on Campus and that the big 80’s party that Sigma Chi has may be a bit of a flop this year due to the Final Four. Draw your own conclusions…
7: It wasn't the championship game.
What is forgotten is that the US Olympic Team's win over the Soviet Union wasn't the Gold Medal Game, it was the game before. The United States had to play Finland following to win the gold. They came from behind in that game and won 4-2 -securing the Gold medal. Just like the Final Four, despite all the pomp and circumstance surrounding, is the game before the championship.
This game is being hyped up, I feel like more than the other matchup and more so than many Final Four matchups before it. Although we might be biased due to being Cards fans, the similarities are kinda spooky and I have been thinking about it since the possibility of playing UK became reality.
Great moments... are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ‘em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, We are the greatest hockey team in the world. Y ou were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ‘em. This is your time.Now go out there and take it.
Go Cards. Beat UK.