It’s considered the greatest upset in sports history – the United States’ 4-3 hockey victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. The 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice ” is Saturday. Forgotten among the memories of the gold medal winning U.S. Olympic team is the fact that its road to glory in Lake Placid passed through Alabama!
In the lead up to the 1980 Olympics, the U.S. hockey team played a total of 61 games. Among those games were 18 against members of the old Central Hockey League – a minor league that was owned by the National Hockey League. The Olympic team played each CHL team twice: once in the CHL city, and once at the Met Sports Center in Bloomington, Minnesota which was the U.S. team’s home base. The games counted in the standings for the CHL teams, a stipulation that Olympic Coach Herb Brooks insisted upon in order to make sure his opponents gave their best effort.
On November 9, 1979, the U.S. team beat the Birmingham Bulls 6-4 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. The U.S. team finished 14-3-1 against CHL teams and 41-17-3 overall. The Olympic squad also played a handful of NHL teams, other minor league teams, college teams, and a few national teams.
In 1979, the NHL absorbed four of the World Hockey Association’s six teams. Birmingham was excluded. So, the Bulls migrated to the CHL in the fall of 1979 with a roster that included a few holdovers from their WHA team, including veterans Paul Henderson, Rick Adduono, and Dave Hanson who was best known for playing Jack Hanson in the 1977 film Slap Shot. The Bulls were coached by John Brophy who had coached them in the WHA and who later coached in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs.