The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team


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The true story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and the Miracle on Ice, which Sports Illustrated called the greatest sports moment in sports history
“An unvarnished and captivating read.”—Parade
Once upon a time, they taught us to believe. They were the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, a blue-collar bunch led by an unconventional coach. Their “Miracle on Ice” has become a national fairy tale, but the real Cinderella story is even more remarkable.
Wayne Coffey casts a fresh eye on this seminal sports event, giving readers an ice-level view of the amateurs who took on a Russian hockey juggernaut at the height of the Cold War. He details the unusual chemistry of the Americans—formulated by their fiercely determined coach, Herb Brooks—and seamlessly weaves portraits of the boys with the fluid action of the game itself. Coffey also traces the paths of the players and coaches since their stunning victory, examining how the Olympic events affected their lives.
Told with warmth and an uncanny eye for detail, The Boys of Winter is an intimate, perceptive portrayal of one Friday night in Lake Placid and the enduring power of the extraordinary.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400047659
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/11/2005
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.44(w) x 9.44(h) x 1.06(d)

About the Author

Wayne Coffey is an award-winning sportswriter for the New York Daily News and the author of Winning Sounds Like This, among other books. He lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Vladimir Petrov was skating in loose figure eights near center ice, his pace slow, his stick still and horizontal, a predator in wait. He edged in for the opening face-off. His two famous wings, Boris Mikhailov and Valery Kharlamov, were on his flanks. Petrov, No. 16, was perhaps the strongest player on the Soviet national team, with blacksmith arms and a bulging neck, a 200-pound slab of muscle who was possessed of the rarest of Russian weapons: a nasty slap shot. Historically, not many Russian players had one because for years not very many practiced slap shots, sticks being both in short supply and of inferior quality. If you wound up and cranked a slap shot, you stood a good chance of getting a splinter and having no stick to play with. “So we never slap puck,” defenseman Sergei Starikov said. “We make good wrist shot instead.” Petrov was 32, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and nine-time world champion. He didn’t know much of anything about Mark Johnson, the U.S. center whom he was about to face off against, except that he wore No. 10 and he looked small and ridiculously young.

It was 5:06 p.m. in Lake Placid, and 1:06 a.m. in Moscow. Bill Cleary, star of the 1960 gold-medal team that had been the last U.S. team to beat the Soviets, had just finished a brief talk in the locker room. “There’s no doubt in my mind–nor in the minds of all the guys on the ’60 team–that you are going to win this game. You are a better team than we were,” Cleary said. Herb Brooks followed him, standing at one end of Locker Room 5 in the new Olympic Field House, wearing a camel-hair sports coat and plaid pants that would’ve looked at home on the dance floor of Saturday Night Fever. The room was a cramped, unadorned rectangle with a rubber-mat floor and a steeply pitched ceiling, situated directly beneath the stands. You could hear stomping and chanting and feel the anticipatory buzz that was all over the Adirondacks. There was a small chalkboard to Brooks’s right and a tiny shower area behind him, the players on the wood benches rimming the room all around him. On the ride to the arena, Brooks sat with assistant Craig Patrick and they talked about what Brooks was going to say to the team. Brooks loved intrigue, the element of surprise. His whole style of play was constructed on it, moving players around, changing breakout patterns, keeping people guessing about everything. Just when his players were sure he was completely inhumane, he’d throw a tennis ball on the ice for a diversion, or have guys play opposite-handed or in different positions, lifting morale and breaking the routine. “You’re going to like it,” Brooks said to Patrick of his talk. The locker room was intense and quiet. Defenseman Bill Baker caught the eye of backup goaltender Steve Janaszak, his former teammate at the University of Minnesota. “What do we do now?” Baker mouthed.

“Pray,” Janaszak mouthed back.

Herb Brooks stood before his twenty players. The quiet got deeper. The coach pulled out a yellow scrap of paper and said, “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.”

Neal Broten, 20-year-old center, second youngest player on the youngest Olympic hockey team the United States had ever fielded, looked down at his skates. “I didn’t know what he was talking about,” Broten said. Broten was nervous, very nervous. He knew he could handle the skating, playing the game. The Russians’ strength he wasn’t so sure about. Don’t make any glaring mistakes, he told himself.

Led by goaltender Jim Craig, the players charged out of the locker room, turned right and then right again. At the threshold of the ice, Craig paused and looked up for a second. The building was shaking from the cheers. He took it in and it felt great. Ten days earlier, the players hadn’t been much less anonymous than the Lake Placid goal judges. Now that they’d gone undefeated in five games and come from behind in four of them, they were Olympic darlings. Somebody rang a cowbell, a tinny touch of the Alps in the Adirondacks. “C’mon, Magic!” winger John “Bah” Harrington shouted to Mark Johnson from the end of the American bench. Magic was Johnson’s nickname. If you ever saw him play you know why.

The last time the U.S. players had seen Petrov and his teammates was thirteen days earlier, in Madison Square Garden, where the Americans didn’t lose so much as get annihilated. That day began with the crowd jeering the Soviet national anthem and cheering every solid American check, and it ended with the fans in numbed silence, even before Soviet winger Alexander Maltsev put a red-coated exclamation point on things. Maltsev was 30 years old and would become the Soviet Union’s all-time leading goal scorer in international competition. Speeding across the U.S. blue line in the third period, defenseman Dave Christian in front of him, Maltsev cruised left by the top of the circle and then began to spin, 360 degrees in a blur, the puck on his stick as if it were glued. When he was done spinning he started snapping, a backhand, inside the far post. In the U.S. goal, Steve Janaszak looked at Christian in disbelief and then laughed inside his mask.

“They were gods,” Janaszak said. On the U.S. bench, trainer Gary Smith walked over to Brooks. “We don’t have a chance against these guys,” Smith said.

“No shit,” the coach replied.

Brooks had spent months trying to debunk the aura surrounding the Soviets. He would talk about how Mikhailov, the fabled captain, looked like Stan Laurel, with his long face and jutting chin. He would tell his players that the team was getting old, that the Russians’ time was past. It was a hard sell on a wintry Saturday in New York City, the U.S. players taking the ice with a bit of trepidation and a lot of awe. “It was hard to even warm up,” Harrington said. “We looked down at the other end of the ice and there they were: Kharlamov, Petrov, Mikhailov. And I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes, there are the guys I saw beating the NHL All-Stars on TV.’ We weren’t just playing when the game started. We were watching them play, and by the time we felt like we belonged on the ice with them, it was 8—0.”

The final score was 10—3 and merely confirmed what the hockey world already knew: there were the Russians, and then there was everybody else. Virtually everyone expected a similar result in the Olympics. As Harrington knew, the Russians had drubbed the best of the NHL, 6—0, on the same Garden ice the year before, and with their backup goaltender, a guy named Myshkin, no less. “What can change in two weeks?” asked Sergei Makarov, the young Russian star who would go on to a long NHL career. “You can’t get whole new team.” Even Mark Johnson said, “If you asked anyone on our team and they told you we could beat the Russians, they would’ve been lying.”

Publicly, Brooks did nothing to discourage such thinking, saying the United States should forget the Russians and worry about sneaking away with a silver or bronze medal. Privately, he was not so convinced. In the Olympic format you didn’t have to beat a team best-of-seven, or even best-of-five. You had to beat a team only once. The Americans were in superb shape and had a sturdy emotional makeup, honed from months of fending off their coach’s verbal floggings. They could skate completely unburdened by expectation, just as their coach had scripted it. Before the game in Madison Square Garden, Brooks told the players to go out and have fun. He had never said anything close to that in the previous sixty pre-Olympic games. Have fun? Brooks had followed Warren Strelow’s suggestion to let goaltenders Jim Craig and Steve Janaszak share time in the Garden goal, limiting the Soviet preview of Craig and sparing the No. 1 goalie any unnecessary angst. For the first half of that game, especially, the Americans weren’t skating, attacking. Part of it was awe, but part of it was Brooks playing at least a little bit of possum. Even Viktor Tikhonov, the Soviet Olympic coach, said that the U.S. team seemed to be holding something back. Brooks himself later described the Garden game as “a ploy.” What could possibly be gained by playing the Russians tough, waking them up? Brooks was beginning to believe that if everything fell together, the United States could take the Russians into the the third period in a tight game. That’s all you could ask for. You get into that position, and you take your chances.

Six weeks after the death of Herb Brooks, Viktor Tikhonov stood in a barren room inside the arena that is home to the Central Sports Club of the Soviet Army (CSKA). He was 73 years old and surrounded by drab white walls. He had a gray tweed jacket and flat face and slicked-back hair, and the vaguely beleaguered aura of a man who is the most decorated international coach in hockey history but may be most remembered for a game his team did not win.

“No matter what we tried we could not get that 10—3 game out of the players’ minds,” Tikhonov said. “The players told me it would be no problem. It turned out to be a very big problem.”

Across the ice from the American amateurs was not simply a staggering assemblage of hockey talent but the end product of one of the most astonishing sporting dynasties ever developed. The Soviets did not look like much, at first glance, in their well-worn red sweaters and matching red helmets, their chunky skates that looked like Sputnik-era hand-me-downs. They would march into the arena in their long fur coats and fur hats, with strong Slavic faces and impassive expressions, the thick-bodied KGB guy never far away. Then it was into the locker room, into their gear, like a bunch of Clark Kents going into the phone booth, and soon they would be on the ice doing their supernatural tricks, passing from stick to stick to stick, a clacking, high-speed symphony performed by athletes with light feet and hard bodies.

“You’d get in the corner with one of those guys and they’d stick their ass out toward you, it was like pushing against cement,” Neal Broten said.

The Soviets staged a chuda (miracle) of their own once, twenty-six years before Lake Placid. It came in 1954 in Stockholm in their first appearance in the world championships. It was led by Vsevelod Bobrov, the Bolshevik Bo Jackson, star not only of the Soviet hockey team but also of the national soccer team, a man known for both his prolific scoring and his disregard for rigorous training.

The Soviets were still new kids on the world-sport block at the time, as deep a mystery to the Western world as Siberia in January. They had excluded themselves ever since they came to power during the revolution of 1917, pronouncing their distaste for Western-style sports organizations and the Olympics, which Communist party leaders saw as the ultimate bourgeois institution, a certain road to imperialist ruin. The attitude changed, swiftly and markedly, after World War II. The Soviet Union had lost 28 million people in the war and was facing the most massive reconstruction project the world had ever seen. Sports began to be seen as a welcome and pleasant diversion, as Robert Edelman notes in his history of spectator sports in the U.S.S.R., Serious Fun, but it was not enough to merely play. Against a backdrop of heightening Cold War tensions and a recognition by party officials that sporting success could be a valuable propaganda tool, the goal, increasingly, was to win, for the motherland and to show the world that Karl Marx had it right. Or as the publication Sovietskii sport argued floridly, “We have created our own Soviet style in sport, the superiority of which has been demonstrated by our football, basketball and water polo players, gymnasts, boxers and wrestlers in the biggest international competitions. Our goal is to create in this new sport for us, Canadian hockey, our advanced Soviet style, in order that our hockey players, in a short time, will become the strongest in the world.”

Nikolai Romanov, the postwar chairman of the government’s Committee on Physical Culture and Sports, was among the first to feel the heat of the winning imperative. When the Soviet speed skaters were upset in the European championships in 1948, Romanov was removed from his job. He somehow got it back in 1952 but had learned his lesson well. Scheduled to compete in the 1953 world championships in Switzerland, the Soviet hockey team pulled out after Bobrov fell ill. “In order to gain permission to go into international competition, I had to send a note to Stalin guaranteeing victory,” Romanov would write years later in his memoirs.

With Bobrov healthy if not a model of temperance, the Soviets surged into the 1954 semifinals against Canada, the most dominant hockey nation on earth. For years the Canadian custom was to send its senior-league champion to the world championships, men who had regular jobs by day and played their hockey by night. That year’s Canadian representative was the East York Lyndhursts. It wasn’t regarded as one of Canada’s stronger entries, but what difference would that make? The Soviet Union did not have a single indoor hockey arena in the entire country. Though they had played a game called bandy–essentially field hockey on ice–for decades, the Soviets had formally begun to compete in ice hockey only after World War II.

Few people inside or outside the ancient brick walls of the Kremlin could fathom it when the Soviets scored a 7—2 triumph. Two years later, the Soviets captured their first Olympic gold medal, in Cortina, Italy, shutting out Canada’s Kitchener Dutchmen. In a sport Canadians all but considered their birthright to rule, they found a new heavyweight in town. It was coached by Anatoly Tarasov and his co-coach Arkady Chernyshev, and it eschewed the rough play and dump-and-muck verticality that were the hallmarks of Canadian hockey, in favor of a system built on speed and crisscrossing movement. The Canadians couldn’t have been more jarred if the Russians had spray-painted Marxist slogans in the Montreal Forum. A major shift in the ice-borne world–strategic, philosophical, and political–was on. Any lingering doubts about it were dispelled in the Summit Series of 1972, a historic eight-game competition between premier Canadian players from the NHL and the reigning world and Olympic champions from the U.S.S.R. The Soviets were still more than fifteen years away from playing in the NHL, and this was the first time they had ever competed against the world’s top pro players. Most observers predicted a Canadian rout. “I wouldn’t mind playing the Russians with the players we won’t dress,” said coach Harry Sinden, whose roster included Ken Dryden, Phil Esposito, and Brad Park. Sinden was somewhat less swaggering after the Russians took Game 1, 7—3, rolling over the Canadians like tanks on the tundra. Ultimately, Canada would take the series, 4—3—1, but rarely has victory been so chilling. “We would never feel the same about ourselves and our game again,” Dryden would say much later in a symposium on Canadian hockey.

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Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 73 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. If you love hockey, read this book.
ktrefz93 More than 1 year ago
Living in the Moment In 1980, the XIII Olympic Winter Games were held in Lake Placid, New York. At the time the United States was struggling with an economic slump, fighting an oil crisis, and facing many overseas issues like the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Cold War with the USSR. Morale was down throughout American citizens. Wayne Coffey relinquishes a defining moment of these Olympics and American sports history that changes the course of American spirit by retelling the hockey game of USA vs. USSR in the medal semi-finals in the book The Boys of Winter. The Boys of Winter is a compelling story about hard-work, determination, the cohesiveness of a team, and reaching goals. This book is a fantastic read for someone who is looking for a thrilling recount of the biggest hockey game in American history. The book provides amazing information and enticing stories of players and coaches, but it is not a history lesson. The Boys of Winter starts nearly at the first drop of the puck in Lake Placid on February 22, 1980 and ends after 60 minutes of a hard-hitting hockey game. I was aware I might be disappointed by this book because I already knew the beginning, middle, and end by watching Disney’s take on the event, the movie Miracle. However, Coffey conveys his own unique spin on the game by accounting for nearly every second spent on the ice, the logistics surrounding it, and my favorite part, expertly intertwined descriptions of each USA player’s personality through special stories of their lives before and after that game. He highlights the strengths of the players enough to make me believe that this win did not just come from a well-conditioned, fairly talented and hard-working group of players; it came from a team where each and every player had their own special addition, from the will to lead by example to the will to disprove stereotypes, that was hand-selected by coach Herb Brooks. This book was generally a very quick and easy read, but at times when Coffey was detailing every shot took in each period it would drag on. The extensive hockey vocabulary was hard to follow, especially for someone who does not play the sport. He matches his specialized moments by enticing and personable stories that make this book fun to read for someone who is looking for more than just the movie portrays about the game and all the United States players.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The novel The Boys of Winter by Coffey is an amazing story of the 1980 Olympic miracle on ice. This story shows how so many players from diverse areas of the country were able to come together and unite in order to win a gold medal. The book gives a great play by play of the game against the Russians that brought the U.S.A. together. At times this book may sound like it is promoting the violence of the game due to the detail Coffey goes into on the hits but he is just trying to tell an accurate account of the game, nothing more. This is the story of a group of men coming together against all odds, this is not just a book about hockey. So even if the reader does not enjoy hockey they should still enjoy this book. The portrayal of Coach Herb Brooks by Coffey is amazing, the reader gets to see exactly what he had to go through in order to unify that team. Overall The Boys of Winter is highly recommended and all sports fans should take the time to read this.
Anonymous 22 hours ago
fun to go back over this great event
MattSabourin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wayne Coffey is a published author of children¿s books and young adult books. He lives in the Hudson Valley region of New York with his wife and three children. He wrote the book The Boys of Winter which was released in 2005. This exciting and fast paced book is based on the 1980 winter Olympics between the Soviet Union and the U.S.A. He has written many books including Winning Sounds like This and The Kobe Bryant Story.This is a non-fiction book that is impossible to be put down. It tells the story of the 1980 winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. It gives you background information on every player on the team. The coach is Herb Brooks who wants to take the Soviets game plan and use it against them. He didn¿t pick the best players that tried out; he chose the players he needed. Just as you thought you know what he was going to do next he would change it up. This book is like the book The Game written by Ken Dryden.I thought this book was a well written novel on the 1980 hockey Winter Olympics. This book was overall a fantastic book. This book focuses on the U.S.A. hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. I would recommend this book to everyone who likes hockey. I give this book an overall rating of 4.5.
loubigfish on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Exciting and dramtic. Herb Brooks was an intense coach. The book tells of how they managed to become a team....and write history...slow start but exciting finish.
JustAGirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A little dry to be of much interest to people who aren't fans of ice hockey and, for my liking, not enough about the world outside the ice rink and the impact of this game on it; but for all that, an interesting book in a great moment of ice hockey history/
urhockey22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. What the prose occassionally lacks in flow and the overuse of puns and other gramatical devices, it gains in attention to detail and a keen grasp of the subject matter. A wonderful account of the greatest sports upset in modern times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MinTwinsNY More than 1 year ago
Any American sports fan will know where he or she was on February 22, 1980. It was on that date that 20 young men from the United States defeated the hockey team from the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics. It is considered by many, including this reviewer, as the greatest sports event that has occurred and will not be repeated. The stories behind this game and the players and Coach Herb Brooks are told in this book by Wayne Coffey. The book starts and ends with scenes from Brooks’ funeral after he was killed in an auto accident in 2003. There are short biographies of Brooks and each of the 20 players scattered throughout the description of the action on the ice during that game. The format makes for great reading for the print version and while also excellent for the audio version, the listener will have to pay close attention so that when the narration changes from player story back to the game, there is no disconnect. The game replay is excellent with not only goals and saves described but each check, each penalty and each steal of the puck by either team relived in great detail. On occasion I will watch a video of the game and get chills, even after all these years. I had the same reaction when Heyborne was describing key events of the game, such as Mark Johnson’s goal with one second remaining in the first period, spectacular saves by goaltender Jim Craig and certainly the winning goal by Mike Eruzione. Any reader who either wants to relive that special game or wants to learn why this team and event is still revered more than 35 years later will want to pick up this book. Even though it was originally published in 2005, the stories and events are just as thrilling to relive now as they were then.
SilenceDogood1776 More than 1 year ago
If you've never read this book, I suggest picking it up today (even if you don't like hockey). The story of the 1980 US Hockey Team is one of legend. It's the stuff you never dream could happen, but yet, on a cold February day in 1980, in a small town in New York, a bunch of college kids united an entire nation (and beyond), and made everyone a believer. These young men - players from diverse areas of the country with different backgrounds and personalities - were able to come together and unite under the guidance of one of the most unconventional coaches in history. By doing so, they achieved the impossible: beat the Soviets, and went on to win the Gold Medal. America clung to the victory tight, holding it close, and reliving that day over and over and over. This win was far bigger than what it was on paper - it represented the very best of true American heart. It gave everyone hope. It made us feel proud, and showed that David CAN slay Goliath. It proved that with determination and teamwork, miracles DO happen. For one moment, on that cold February day in 1980, every single citizen was part of that team...and still are to this day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great Book! This book is about the 1980 Olympic Hockey Game. The game was between Russia and the United States for the gold medal, which the US won four to three. It talks about the players and the coach and how they got to the olympics and what their lives were like before. A major message from this book is that if you work hard than anything is possible. I liked all the the background information the book provided. The description of the game was very attention grabbing. The only thing that I didn't like was that it was a little confusing switching from the game to the background information. Others should read this book because it was very interesting. It gives a great story of the 1980 Olympic final hockey game. 
JessMyller More than 1 year ago
A Perfect Book For Anyone Who Loves Hockey The Boys of Winter is an enticing text that is extremely descriptive and informative. This book tells the story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team winning the gold medal against the Russian team at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. The setting of this game is what makes this event so defining in history, as it took place during the Cold War. Winning the gold medal for hockey in the Olympics against Russia gave the US an edge in this rivalry and encouraged the American citizens. This book is incredibly inspiring. The odds were completely against the US in this hockey game, but the players’ determination and hard work allowed them to be successful and pull of the most unlikely win of each of their careers. Teamwork is a major theme in this book, as this game would not have been won if the players had not learned to work cohesively. The Boys of Winter also showed how criticism leads to improvement, as Brooks’ tough, unorthodox coaching style resulted in extreme growth in each of the players on his hockey team. While reading The Boys of Winter, I personally really enjoyed the included interviews with the players. It was interesting to learn their views about their coach and his unconventional coaching style, the actual game, and how they went back to living life after this moment of glory. Coffey also wrote mini biographies of each player, which he effortlessly entwined with the main plot of the book. It was interesting to learn about the players’ pasts and their hockey careers prior to the Olympics at Lake Placid. While the text was obviously about the game, it was not a play-by-play commentary of the game. Coffey described the important events of the game including goals and penalties, but he did not go overboard describing each shift of the game. This was a good way to go about writing this book because it keeps the reader engaged rather than losing interest from reading about plays that did not result in anything. The Boys of Winter is an enjoyable book to read, but there were aspects of it that I was not a fan of. Coffey wrote a lot about the history of the hometowns of the players, and I felt like the depth he went to with this information was unnecessary. For example, knowing the populations of the towns that the players grew up in does not contribute to the main idea of the book, and this information becomes boring to readers. Anyone who is a fan of hockey or wants to learn more about this story should definitely read this book. It is well-written and easy to understand for those who do not know a lot about hockey, all while being extremely interesting and informative.
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Beautiful sport hockey
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Intensity, fearlessness, and a story that truly tells itself. Thats what this this book is about. The book really captures the setting even around the hockey game. At this time alot was going on in America and that is just as much a part of the story as hockey is. The book describes the intensity of the 1980 american hockey society completely. I would recommend this book to anyone who is an avid sports fan. You don't have to be a die-hard hockey fan to read this. If you love competition and sport dedicated books, this is the one for you. Coffey truly captures each hockey game and describes the full intensity of each and every shift on the ice. Coffey's writing style fit the needs of this story completely. He did not try to overpower the story by his writing but allowed the story to be the "cake" and his writing to be the "frosting." He just spiced up and put the intensity inside of it. 
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I enjoyed reading this book. I would recommend this book for any one interested in the 80 Olympic hockey team.
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