Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Miracle on ice, revisited

I just finished "The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team" by Wayne Coffey. It's available in hardcopy or digital form on Amazon. The last couple of minutes of the game are above.

Coffey's book was a pretty good read, especially given the dearth of quality books on ice hockey. My only quibble was Coffey's choice to intersperse the narrative of the game against the Russians with vignettes about the players on the team -- I would have preferred a chronological approach.

The book has some nice bits about strategy which I think are applicable to more than just the 1980 Olympic game. To wit:
•On one coach's coaching philosophy: "In coaching players, he treid to find the positive things they could do. The sign on the wall of Johnson's coaching office said, "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig."

•On Herb Brooks' trying to beat the Soviets: "To compete with them, Brooks knew his team couldn't merely move fast. It had to think fast. The way he wanted to play the Russians put tremendous demands on players to read plays, anticipate, move without the puck. One of Tarasov's favorite sayings was "speed of hand, speed of foot, speed of mind. The most important of these is speed of mind. Teach it."

•Because of the Soviets' speed, Brooks kept his players' shifts to 35 to 40 seconds and had an assistant coach time it. The Russians realized the Americans had shortened their shifts, but were surprised by the tactic and continued to take their usual long shifts.

•After the Americans beat the Soviets at Lake Placid, they would not lose another international game for five years and outscored the Americans 38 to 9 over their next five meetings. The Americans would not beat the Soviets again until 1991.

•In the game at Lake Placid, which the Americans won 4 to 3, the Americans were outshot 39 to 16.

•To quote the book: "The winning goal of the Russia game was scored by a captain who had almost been cut, on a broken play, off the wrong foot. Two of the three goals that preceded it were the work of hard work and hustle but also of bounces that bordered on the karmic. The opponent was arguably as great a hockey team as has ever been assembled. The coach was not the first choice for the job, and maybe not even the second. But he was a man as daring as he was detached, and it's hard to say which was bolder: reporgramming his players to learn an entirely different style of hockey in seven months or uniting a team rife with geographical factions by making himself the common enemy."

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