This Day In Sports: Forerunner of the ‘Miracle On Ice’

February 28, 1960: Twenty years before the “Miracle On Ice,” the U.S. Olympic hockey team pulls off a less-celebrated miracle at the Winter Games in Squaw Valley. Just like in Lake Placid in 1980, the Americans beat the Soviet Union in their second-to-last game of tournament, winning 3-2 in this one. A victory over Czechoslovakia would give the U.S. the gold medal (the Americans beat Finland to win the legendary gold in 1980).

The United States had defeated Czechoslovakia 7-5 in Group play, but the Americans trailed the Czechs 4-3 after two periods in their finale. They had upset the Soviets the day before and were playing an 8 a.m. game against Czechoslovakia—and were out of gas. During the intermission after the second period, the Soviet captain visited the American locker room, and—unable to speak English—used sign language to suggest that the U.S. players use oxygen to re-energize. (Would that ever happen today?) A tank was rolled in, and the revitalized Americans scored six goals in a 12-minute span to win 9-4 and capture the gold medal.

The U.S. team was a decided underdog entering the Squaw Valley Games, even more than in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid. The world’s top four teams heading into the 1960 Games were Canada, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Sweden. The U.S. beat all four squads as they finished 7-0 for the tournament. On the 50th anniversary of the gold medal march, Northland Films produced a documentary called “Forgotten Miracle,” recalling the Americans’ unlikely journey to the podium.

U.S. netminder Jack McCartan won the Best Goaltender award at the Olympics. McCartan then played a few games at the end of the NHL season for the New York Rangers and was signed by the Rangers for the 1960-61 campaign. But things didn’t pan out, and he bounced around in the minors for the next few seasons. One of McCartan’s stops was with the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League, and I actually saw him play in a game against the San Francisco Seals. (Can’t remember who won.)

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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