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Associated Press
Mark Johnson tied the score at 2-2 at 19:59 of the first period against the Soviet Union.

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Associated Press
Soviet Coach Viktor Tikhonov's decision to change goaltenders before the second period has been criticized by his former players, and by Tikhonov himself.




SPORTS OF THE TIMES

The Other Side of the Miracle on Ice

By DAVE ANDERSON

Published: February 22, 2005

TWENTY-FIFTH anniversaries are supposed to be celebrated with silver. But for all the fans in or out of Lake Placid, N.Y., who chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" on Feb. 22, 1980, the United States Olympic hockey team's 4-3 upset of the Soviet Union that evening will always be the golden moment that preceded the gold-medal victory over Finland two days later.

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Ever since, the red-white-and-blue story has been told and retold. It was recently made into a movie: how Coach Herb Brooks, who died in a one-car accident in 2003, molded a team of mostly Minnesota and Massachusetts collegians into a team that inspired the broadcaster Al Michaels's glorious question: "Do you believe in miracles?"

At the time, nearly a decade before the Soviet Union's collapse, the Soviet side of that Winter Olympic story remained concealed under the red helmets and the red-and-white uniforms of what was generally considered the world's top hockey team. Yes, a team better than any of the N.H.L.'s best.

But now, thanks to Wayne Coffey's "The Boys of Winter" (Crown), a sweet and searching recollection of Brooks and his improbable team, along with an almost shift-by-shift analysis of that game, the Soviets' reaction is finally on record.

In particular, the former Soviet players speak out about what was, in retrospect, the turning point of the game - Soviet Coach Viktor Tikhonov's benching of the world's premier goaltender of that era, Vladislav Tretiak.

Tretiak was pulled after Mark Johnson's sudden and surprising goal tied the score at 2-2 with one second remaining in the first period.

"The whole team was not happy when Tikhonov made the switch," forward Sergei Makarov told Coffey. "It was the worst moment of Vlady's career. Tikhonov was panicking. He couldn't control himself. That's what it was - panic."

Tretiak's replacement, Vladimir Myshkin, was a more-than-capable goaltender. In the decisive third game of the Soviets' series with the N.H.L. All-Stars the year before, Myshkin produced a 6-0 shutout. But he was not the great Tretiak, who, with his long arms and long legs, evoked the image of a huge spider.

"Every goal for Vlady was like a tragedy," Makarov said. "If he let up a bad goal, that was it. He didn't like to be screamed at. You didn't need to scream at him. He would shut the door. There would not be any more."

Even with Tretiak on the bench, the Soviets took a 3-2 lead into the third period, and they assumed they would win.

"We were already celebrating," defenseman Valery Vasiliev said. "Nobody can skate with us in the third period."

But after Johnson scored in that period to tie the score at 3-3 and after Mike Eruzione wristed the winning goal past Myshkin, the Soviets lost with Tretiak on the bench - the decision that has haunted Tikhonov.

"The biggest mistake of my career," Tikhonov told Coffey through an interpreter. "Tretiak always played better after he gave up a goal. The decision was a result of getting caught up in emotions. After Tretiak gave up the rebound and let in the soft goal by Johnson, my blood was boiling. It was my worst mistake, my biggest regret."

According to Tikhonov, his players' worst mistake was their overconfidence after a 10-3 rout of Brooks's team in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden two weeks earlier.

"No matter what we tried," Tikhonov said, "we could not get that 10-3 game out of the players' minds. The players told me it would be no problem. It turned out to be a very big problem."

Tikhonov's team knew it was a cold war enemy. Several weeks before the Games, President Jimmy Carter called for an American boycott of that year's Summer Games in Moscow. The decision came soon after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan.

When the Soviet hockey team arrived at the Olympic Village in Lake Placid, N.Y., the players were lodged in the thin walls of what would be turned into a state prison.

"When Vladimir Petrov sneezed in the next room," Tretiak recalled, "my roommate, Vladimir Krutov, would reply, 'Bless you,' without raising his voice."

The American players, meanwhile, slept in trailers that, by Olympic housing standards in Lake Placid, were somewhat roomier and somewhat warmer. And under Brooks's prodding, they were on a mission. "Their eyes were bright, their eyes were burning," Makarov said. "It was team."

But Tikhonov pointed to the failure of Tretiak, and of the big line of Petrov, Boris Mikhailov and Valery Kharlamov. One by one, Tikhonov jabbed a finger in the faces of those four players, saying: "This is your loss! This is your loss!"

On the flight home, Vasiliev grabbed Tikhonov around the neck, saying, "I will kill you right now," before he was pulled away. To the Soviet players, silver medals were meaningless.

"I don't have mine," Makarov said. "I think it is in garbage in Lake Placid jail."

In the cleanup of the Olympic Village, according to "The Boys of Winter," workers found 121 empty vodka bottles in the drop ceilings of the Soviet units.






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