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Olympics / Sports

US hockey players grow up in the shadow of 'Miracle on Ice'

ADLER, Russia -- During a recent speech, Dmitry Chernyshenko, the Sochi 2014 CEO, told his audience he had been frightened by three Hollywood films.

"Three horror films," he said. "'Nightmare on Elm Street,' 'Friday the 13th.'"

And "Miracle," the film account of what Sports Illustrated called the greatest sports moment of the 20th Century.

As the U.S. and Russia prepared to meet once again on Olympic ice Saturday, the impact of the Miracle On Ice on American and Russian hockey remains ever present. That early Friday evening in Lake Placid nearly 34 years ago also weighs heavy on the Russia's collective psyche.

"We all grew up in the culture that hockey is a religion in our country," Chernyshenko said Friday. "And we were educated by this very dramatic story."

Although the Soviet Union went on to win Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1988, many in Russia see this Olympic tournament as a chance to erase the stain of the two darkest moments in Russian sports history, Lake Placid and the loss to Team Canada in the historic 1972 Summit Series.

The tournament is also a chance to return the host nation to what most in this hockey-mad country believe is Russia's rightful place atop the international game. A Russian player hasn't stood atop an Olympic medal podium since a Unified Federation team won the 1992 gold medal. Russia president Vladimir Putin has said the Olympics would be a success if Russia wins the hockey gold medal. Anything less would be viewed as a disaster.

This week, Russia and Detroit forward Pavel Datsyuk was asked how long he's been waiting for this Olympic tournament.

"All of my life," he said.

U.S. players have also grown up in the shadow of the Miracle On Ice, a magical moment that created greater expectations on future generations of U.S. players but also launched the American game on a path of unprecedented growth, that was later accelerated by the 1988 Wayne Gretzky trade to the Kings.

"In 1980 it was a miracle, and in fact it made it possible for ice hockey to develop so fast in the United States and gave it great impetus," said Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary Soviet goaltender who was replaced in the second period of the 1980 game.

"It's come a long way," U.S. and Kings forward Dustin Brown said of the development of the sport in the U.S. "I look at it more from a standpoint of where people are coming out of from the United States. You go back 15, 20, 30 years, it was Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan. Now you're getting guys out of California and all over the map, which I think is good for the state of USA hockey."

Lake Placid also served as a wakeup call for the Soviet's so-called Big Red Machine. The Soviets won five gold medals in six Olympics between 1956 and 1976. Just days before their meeting with the U.S. at the Olympics, the Soviets thrashed Team USA, 10-3, in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden.

"In 1980 it was a good lesson that the Americans taught us," said Tretiak, now president of the Russian hockey federation. "You have to respect your competitors and only after the game can you tell them what you think of them. We did not have respect for the competitors at that time, and that's why we lost."

A lesson that remains too painful to revisit for many Russians.

Viktor Tikhonov, 25, a forward on the current Russian team, is the son of the late San Jose Sharks assistant Vasily Tikhonov. In fact, the younger Tikhonov began playing at 5 in San Jose. But he is named for his grandfather, the legendary coach of the Soviet team. The elder Viktor Tikhonov led the Big Red Machine to Olympic gold in 1984 and 1988 and six World titles, including five in a row. But he is perhaps best remembered for losing in Lake Placid and his controversial decision to pull Tretiak.

This week his grandson was asked if he had ever watched "Miracle." He shook his head.

"Never," he said.

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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