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The Soviet and American teams were natural rivals due to the decades-old Cold War.In addition, President Jimmy Carter was at the time considering a U. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics, to be held in Moscow, in protest of the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.Near the end of the exhibition season, although he had supported them throughout, Brooks threatened because of subpar play to cut Eruzione (the captain) and replace Craig as the starting goalie with Steve Janaszak.The game was also costly for the Americans off-ice, as defenseman Jack O'Callahan pulled a ligament in his knee; however, Brooks kept O'Callahan on the roster which meant virtually playing with only 19 players throughout the tournament.The Soviet team was populated with amateur players who were actually full-time athletes hired as regular workers of a company (aircraft industry, food workers, tractor industry) or organization (KGB, Red Army, Soviet Air Force) that sponsored what would be presented as an after-hours social sports society hockey team for their workers.Soviets were led by legendary players in world ice hockey, such as Boris Mikhailov (a top line right winger and team captain), Vladislav Tretiak (the consensus best goaltender in the world at the time), the speedy and skilled Valeri Kharlamov, as well as talented, young, and dynamic players such as defenseman Viacheslav Fetisov and forwards Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov.O'Callahan would eventually return for the game against the Soviets playing limited minutes.
By contrast, the United States' team—led by head coach Herb Brooks—consisted exclusively of amateur players, and was the youngest team in the tournament and in U. The Soviet Union entered the Lake Placid games as the heavy favorite, having won the previous four ice hockey gold medals dating back to the 1964 games.Nine players had played under Brooks at the University of Minnesota, which included Rob Mc Clanahan, Mike Ramsey, and Phil Verchota; while four more were from Boston University: Dave Silk, Jack O'Callahan, goalie Jim Craig, and team captain Mike Eruzione.Boston University and Minnesota were perennial rivals in college hockey and the hostility carried over from some of the players on the Olympic team for the first few months. For the first game in the medal round, the United States played the Soviets. went on to clinch the gold medal by beating Finland in their final match of the tournament. achieved several notable results, including a 2–2 draw against Sweden, and a 7–3 upset victory over second-place favorites Czechoslovakia.In the end, the Soviet Union and Finland advanced from their group. Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov rested most of his best players, preferring to let them study plays rather than actually skate. Brooks' goal was to have his team be able to keep up with the Soviets through all three periods.The day before the match, columnist Dave Anderson wrote in The New York Times, "Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle, as did the American squad in 1960, the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments." Prior to the game, ABC requested that it be rescheduled from p.m. Eastern Time, so that it could be broadcast live in primetime hours. As a result, ABC decided not to broadcast the game live for the U. audience, and tape delayed it for broadcast during its primetime block of Olympics coverage instead.But part of Brooks' selection process was a 300-question psychological test that would give him insight on how every player would react under stress. It would be the youngest team in the Olympic tournament.Anyone who refused to take the test would be flunked. team was 21 years old, making it the youngest team in U. But Brooks had selected carefully and knew the limits of every player.They played a total of 61 games in five months against teams from Europe and America.Through these games, Herb Brooks instilled a European style of play in the American team, emphasizing wide open play with sufficient body contact.