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'80 rout of Czechoslovakia a miracle, too

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Game 1 Review: USA 2, Sweden 2

Over the next two weeks, as current NHL stars compete in the 2010 Olympics at Vancouver, will be looking back to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team and the role various Rangers Alumni played in capturing the gold medal. We continue this special series with a look back at Team USA's second game, vs. Czechoslovakia on Feb. 14, 1980.

By Dan David,

New York Rangers fans who go back to the 1980s undoubtedly remember the contributions of forwards Mark Pavelich and Rob McClanahan, a pair of Minnesota natives who combined to play nearly 500 games with the Blueshirts in the years between 1981 and 1986.

Future Hall of Famer Peter Stastny was part of the Czechoslovakian Olympic team that lost to Team USA 7-3 on Feb. 14, 1980. This year, Stastny's son, Paul, will be part of the U.S. Olympic effort.
Before they were teammates on the Rangers, Pavelich and McClanahan were teammates on the fateful "Miracle on Ice" team that won Olympic gold at Lake Placid in 1980, and if it weren't for their respective performances in the second game of that Olympic tournament, there's a good chance Team USA might not have even made it into the medal round.

While every American hockey fan can recall where they were when the U.S. beat the heavily favored Soviet Union to advance to the gold-medal game, few will likely remember where they were on this date 30 years ago -- Feb. 14, 1980 -- even though it was also one of the biggest upsets in Team USA history.

Coming off their surprising 2-2 tie with Sweden two days earliur, the young American team had to go up against Czechoslovakia in the second game of Blue Division round-robin competition. Czechoslovakia had won medals in each of the last four Olympics and were ranked as the second-best team in the tournament behind the Soviets.

One of the reasons for Czechoslovakia's hockey dominance was its natural rivalry with the Soviet Union, which had cracked down on efforts to spurn Communism for democracy at Prague in 1968 and then tightened the Iron Curtain atmosphere that so many Czechs and Slovaks had been hoping to escape.

In hockey, Czechoslovakia had an outlet for its anger, and its hockey players craved the opportunity to beat the Soviets for Olympic gold in 1980. They had no idea going into the Games, of course, that the Team USA was going to do it for them.

Loading up for a big Olympic showing, Czechoslovakia brought an outstanding veteran team to Lake Placid. Team Czechoslovakia featured 10 future NHL players -- half of its roster -- and one future Hockey Hall of Famer in Peter Stastny, whose son, Paul, now plays for the Colorado Avalanche and will, ironically, play for the U.S. at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Peter Stastny and his brothers, Marian and Anton, formed one of the world's most dangerous lines in 1980. All three would later defect and enter the NHL with the Quebec Nordiques, but at the Olympics, their focus was on upsetting the Russian team that had forced their country to settle for silver four years earlier in Austria.

Another key player on the Czechoslovakia roster was Vincent Lukac, celebrating his 26th birthday on the day his country faced Team USA. Lukac, who played for Kosice, was the top goal-scorer in his nation in 1979-80. In addition to Lukac, the roster featured nine of the previous season's 13 first- or second-team All-Stars from Czechoslovakia's elite league. That league was considered amateur by the International Olympic Committee, but it was no less professional than the Moscow-based league that housed the Soviet stars.

With the Valentine's Day odds stacked so high against the U.S., it's hardly a surprise that the hard-working Pavelich and McClanahan would play such a key role for Herb Brooks' team that day. Both players would pick up a goal and an assist in what turned out to be a 7-3 USA rout -- one of the most lopsided upsets in Olympic hockey history.

The secret to American success on Feb. 14, 1980, was a decision to use team speed and toughness to turn the tables on a slower, more deliberate Czechoslovakia squad whose players did not particularly enjoy being hit. Over time, that strategy tired out the favorites and left them utterly humiliated in a third period that saw Team USA outscore Czechoslovakia 3-1.


• Czechoslovakia finished fifth at the Olympics in 1980, the lowest finish by that nation since 1956.

• Frantisek Kaberle Sr., who played on Team Czechoslovakia in 1980, is the father of Frantisek Kaberle, who played 523 NHL games for the Kings, Thrashers and Hurricanes before returning hom to the Czech Republic last year, and current NHL star Tomas Kaberle. Like his sons, Frantisek Sr. was a defenseman.

• The three Stastny brothers were hoping to defect during the 1980 Olympics and had worked out a plan with Quebec Nordiques officials to make it happen. However, tight security at Lake Placid made it too risky for the brothers to communicate with their contacts, and the plan was aborted. Peter and Anton Stastny would eventually defect in August 1980, while Marian would gain permission to leave in 1981.

• Although 10 Team Czechoslovakia players later made it to the NHL, Jaroslav Pouzar was the only one to win the Stanley Cup championship. He was on Edmonton teams that won the Cup in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Miroslav Dvorak was on the Philadelphia team that Pouzar's Oilers beat in the 1985 Cup Finals.

• Team Czechoslovakia had two head coaches, Karel Gut and Ludek Bukac. Both are members of the International Hockey Hall of Fame.
The other key to the game was U.S. goaltender Jim Craig, who stopped 28 Czechoslovkia shots and made a point of getting whistles rather than allowing play to continue. Whenever there was an opportunity to fall on the puck, Craig did it in the interest of frustrating the impatient Czechs.

Given the buzz over the tie with Sweden, it was no surprise that nearly twice as many fans turned out for the game against Czechoslovakia, which was played on a Monday. A near-capacity crowd of 7,000 filled the Lake Placid field house to support the underdogs. In fact, it was at this game, that the famous "U-S-A, U-S-A" chants first started, and those chants would build to a crescendo by the medal round.

The game began as a close one. Future Edmonton Oiler Jaroslav Pouzar put Team Czechoslovakia ahead at 2:23 of the opening period, but that was the only time the guests would lead. U.S. captain Mike Eruzione came right back, blazing down left wing at 4:39 to score off an assist from future NHL star Neal Broten, and then Pavelich gave the Americans their first lead just over a minute later at 5:45. The Czechs would manage to tie it at 12:07 of the first on a Marian Stastny goal, but that was as close as it got.

Team USA scored the only two goals in the second period to break the game open. Future Rangers Pavelich and McClanahan had lone assists on both. Pavelich set up Buzz Schneider to make it 3-2 at 4:33 of the second, and McClanahan assisted on Mark Johnson's goal that made it 4-2 at the 15:28 mark.

When Phil Verchota and Schneider both scored within four minutes of the third period, it was game over for Czechoslovakia, which trailed 6-2 at that point. Lukac set up Jiri Novak to cut the lead to 6-3 with just under 15 minutes remaining, but McClanahan slammed the door shut with a goal at 10:54 of the third, and the crowd went wild as the Americans coasted to their victory.

Realizing that Team USA had probably killed its dream of facing the USSR in the medal round, Team Czechoslovakia got chippy in the third period, and Jan Neliba nearly injured Johnson when he speared him late in the game. That sparked an altercation between Peter Stastny and Steve Christoff, but the game was already decided at that point.

Getting set to face three weaker opponents to close out the round-robin portion of the tournament, the Americans were all but assured of going on to the medal round. Brooks, who would later coach Pavelich and McClanahan again with the Rangers, was quick to put it all in perspective, however.

"The next couple of games will be more of a test for us than the first two," said Brooks. "Now we really have to show what we're made of. A good team has to win the games it's supposed to win and upset some teams it isn't supposed to beat. I'm afraid of American kids, because they get too cocky."

At this point in the Olympics, Brooks had to know that he had something pretty special on his hands. But even Brooks might not have believed that these kids were only 10 days away from making sports history.
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