No one expected the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to beat the Soviet Union, much less win the gold medal.
But that so-called “Miracle on Ice” happened—and there are clear reasons why it did, according to team captain Mike Eruzione.
“I always tell people it wasn’t a fluke. We weren’t lucky,” Eruzione told attendees of the 2015 CSCU Solutions Conference in St. Petersburg, Fla. “Like any successful business or team, success is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight.”
What enabled the team to succeed?
Willingness to be uncommon. The team’s legendary coach, Herb Brooks, was fond of saying, “The common man goes nowhere,” Eruzione said. The team did things differently. The U.S. practiced for six months together, instead of the two weeks which was normal in previous Olympics. And the players embraced a new style necessary to compete on the Olympic-size rinks, which were larger than the ice sheets on which they typically played.
Checking ego at the door. All the players understood their responsibility and role on the team. “Mark Johnson was our best hockey player, but how good would Mark be if the left wings and the right wings weren’t doing their job?” Eruzione asked rhetorically.
Respect for self, the team, and the competition. The players on the 1980 team had “good, old-fashioned values” such as pride, respect, and commitment that they brought to practice every day.“They brought more to the table than just their hockey skills. They brought their values, too,” Eruzione said.
Staying positive. Shortly before the Olympic tournament, the U.S. team lost 10-3 to the Soviets in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden. It led the media to proclaim the U.S. had no hope of winning a gold medal. Brooks, however, urged his team to focus on the two periods of the contest where the Americans hung with the undisputed best team in the world. “He turned a negative into a positive right away,” Eruzione said of his coach.
Enjoying the journey. Eruzione’s teammates had a knack for defusing tense moments with jokes. The opportunity to play a game they loved at the Olympics wasn't lost on them. “You have got to have fun in what you are doing. If you are not enjoying yourself, you have got to find something else to do,” Eruzione said.
Perseverance. The Americans made several comebacks en route to winning the gold medal, including in the final period of the final game, against Finland. Heading into the third period, the U.S. trailed 2-1, but rallied to score three goals and win 4-2. “When you are in front, it is easy. But the true test of a team, the true test of character, the true test of leadership, is how you respond when you are behind the 8-ball,” Eruzione said.
“When I think about our story and how it ended with victory, I think what enabled it to happen is the best part of the story,” Eruzione said.
Eruzione’s favorite part of telling the team’s story is when people realize hard work led to the gold medal.
“We weren’t lucky. It wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a miracle," Eruzione said. "It was a process of a group of athletes that, day in and day out, strived to be the best and to be successful."