Winter Olympics Memorable Moments: The 1960 U.S. Hockey Team
U.S. hockey's original golden boys
by Mike Morrison
The phrase "U.S. men's hockey gold medal" usually conjures up visions of Lake Placid, of goaltender Jim Craig draped in the Stars and Stripes searching for his father, or announcer Al Michaels asking if we "believe in miracles."
But 1980 was not the first time the United States achieved Olympic hockey gold. The less publicized—but no less miraculous—1960 U.S. men's hockey team also shocked the world with its stunning victory in Squaw Valley, Calif.
Despite the fact that the Americans won the silver medal in the two previous Olympics (1952 and 1956), they were still considered overwhelming underdogs to the powerful Czechoslovakians, the always talented Soviets (who had won gold in 1956 and hadn't lost in international competition since then), and the Canadians, who had won six of the eight Olympic hockey golds up to that point.
Similar to 1980, the U.S. squad in 1960 was a scrappy, determined bunch of college kids and amateur players mostly from Boston and Minnesota. They were coached by Jack Riley, a player on the 1948 U.S. team and longtime head coach at West Point.
On the ice, the team was led by two sets of brothers: Harvard's Bill and Bob Cleary, and Bill and Roger Christian from Minnesota. With Bill Christian's son David becoming a star for the U.S. Olympic team in 1980, and the success of the family hockey stick company, the Christians are widely considered the "first family" of American hockey.
Defensemen John Mayasich and Jack Kirrane were the top pairing on the blue line, with the last line of defense coming from standout goaltender Jack McCartan.
After a surprising 7–5 preliminary round win against Czechoslovakia, the Americans throttled the overmatched Australians 12–1 and advanced to the championship round.
They rolled over Sweden and Germany, setting up their highly anticipated match with Canada. McCartan stopped 39 of 40 Canadian shots, while Bill Cleary and Paul Johnson tallied goals in a 2–1 U.S. upset.
The semifinal match-up would be with the imposing Soviet Union. More than 10,000 fans packed into Squaw Valley's Blyth Arena and saw the home team jump out to an early 1–0 lead before the Soviets roared back with two quick goals.
But the Christians came through for the U.S. Roger set Bill up twice to give their team a 3–2 win, marking the first time in history a U.S. hockey team had beaten a Soviet team. It set up another visit with the Czechoslovakians, this time for the gold medal.
Oddly enough, the gold medal game was slated for 8 A.M. on the following morning! It took a while for the Americans to shake off the cobwebs, as they slogged their way to a 4–3 deficit after two periods. And then they simply exploded.
Six unanswered third-period goals later (including a hat trick from Roger Christian), the Americans had a commanding 9–4 win.
They had a combined 7–0–0 during the tournament and won the United States' first Olympic hockey gold medal.