SOCHI 2014

Feb 14 Sochi Spotlight: Men's Ice Hockey

By Paul D. Bowker | Feb. 14, 2014, 6:43 a.m. (ET)

Paul Stastny celebrates with his teammates after a goal against Jaroslav Halak of Slovakia during the men's ice hockey preliminary round Group A game of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Shayba Arena on Feb. 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the date of the last Olympic meeting between Team USA and Russia.

The game is 34 years in the making.

When the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team faces Russia in a preliminary-round game Saturday at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi, it will quickly evoke memories of the unforgettable “Miracle on Ice” game of the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games.

For U.S. hockey fans, Team USA’s victory over the heavily favored Soviets in the 1980 Winter Games is among the most famous moments in Olympic history. The Americans’ unlikely run to the gold medal, which was sealed after a win over Finland in the final game, was the inspiration for the movie “Miracle” starring Kurt Russell as U.S. coach Herb Brooks.

For Russians, the loss to a U.S. team made up of college hockey players is a bitter memory that forced change within the national hockey program.

Saturday’s game, while not having quite the dramatics of the 1980 game simply because it is a preliminary round match-up, will mark the first Olympic meeting between the two countries since 2006. It will be the second game in these Games for Team USA, which opened with a 7-1 rout against Slovakia.

But emotions still will ride high.

Expect a noisy sellout crowd, especially from Russian fans who are hoping to watch their team win Olympic gold for the first time as an independent country. The 1980 gold medal was the United States’ last in men’s hockey, although Team USA came close four years ago in Vancouver when the men suffered an overtime loss to Canada in the gold-medal game.

The connections to the 1980 “Miracle” game are strong on both sides.

Ryan Suter of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, an alternate captain and second-time U.S. Olympian, is the son of Bob Suter, who was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team and now lives in Wisconsin.

“I hear more and more about the ’80 team and how special it was,” Ryan Suter, who was born five years after the “Miracle” game, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Viktor Tikhonov, a first-time Olympian on the Russian team, is named after his grandfather, Viktor Tikhonov, who was the coach of the 1980 Soviet team and three other Olympic teams after that. A native Russian who plays for a St. Petersburg, Russia, team, the younger Tikhonov spends time in California outside of hockey season. His father, Vasily, was a coach in the San Jose Sharks organization in the 1990s.

USSR’s loss to the United States in 1980 marked the only time in 24 years that the Soviets did not win the Olympic gold medal. They entered the 1980 Olympic Games as four-time defending gold-medal champions and then followed Lake Placid with gold medal wins in 1984 and 1988. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Unified Team went on to win gold in 1992 as well.

“In 1980, it was a good lesson that the Americans taught us,” said Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary starting goaltender from the Soviet dynasty — famously and controversially pulled after the first period in the “Miracle” game — and now president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation. “You have to respect your competitors and only after the game can you tell what you think about them. We did not have respect for the competitors at that time, but that won’t happen during this Olympics.”

Tretiak was honored in Sochi as he and figure skater Irina Rodnina lit the flame during the Opening Ceremony.

Second-time U.S. Olympian Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche will enter Saturday’s game with a unique perspective. His father Peter played for Czechoslovakia in the 1980 Winter Games and is in the Hall of Fame. Paul Stastny is a native of Canada because Peter defected with the help of the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques, escaping the Eastern Bloc.

“My parents grew up in communism. I heard a lot about that, especially when he tried to escape,” said Paul Stastny, a center for the Avalanche.

“A lot of people don’t realize how harsh it was and how lucky I am that my parents were able to raise us in the land of the free,” he added. “It’s an honor to play for the U.S. When I was younger, I just wanted to go and play hockey, but to be able to represent the red, white and blue is an honor and a blessing.”

Stastny won the silver medal with the United States four years ago at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

“Our expectations are a lot higher than they were the last time,” he said. “Our goal is to win that last day of the Olympics.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.

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