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The first hockey 'miracle,' at the 1960 Olympics

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1960 U.S. Olympic Hockey team
The 1960 U.S. Olympic Hockey team: [Top Row (L-R)] John Mayasich, Paul Johnson, Weldon Olsen, Dick Rodenheiser, Dick Meredith, Bennie Bertini (trainer) [Second Row (L-R)] Jim Claypool (manager), Bob Cleary, Bob McVey, Rod Paavola, Roger Christian, Eugene Grazia, Tommy Williams, Jack Riley (coach) [Front Row (L-R)] Larry Palmer, Jack Kirrane, Bill Cleary, Bob Owen, Bill Christian, Jack McCartan
Image courtesy of Golden Puck Pictures

The U.S. men's hockey team took to Olympic ice for their first game Tuesday in Vancouver, defeating Switzerland 3-1.  The U.S. team's next game is on Thursday against Norway.  

The 2010 team is not predicted to do particularly well. But if history is any indication, that  might actually be a good omen for the men in red white and blue.

Most everybody remembers the famous "Miracle on Ice" gold medal win by the underdog U.S. hockey team at Lake Placid in 1980. But 50 years ago, there was another overachieving hockey team that came away with gold. 

The 1960 U.S. men's team -- made of up collegiate players and other amateurs led by head coach Jack Riley -- were not expected to get past the first couple of rounds. Sports Ilustrated picked the team to finish last.

That 1960 team finished the Olympics, held in Squaw Valley, Calif., with a perfect 7-0 record and outscored the opposition by a 48-17 margin. The U.S. team won the gold over the heavily favored squads from Canada, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. 

One of the players on that team, Paulie Johnson, recently spoke with MPR's Tom Crann about that special year. 

"We had a very good club," said Johnson, a native of South St. Paul and a forward on the 1960 team.  "We had two great players, John Mayasich and Bill Cleary, and a bunch of good players.  We had seven good games."

The U.S. defeated Australia 12-1, and Czechoslovakia 7-5 to advance into the medal round. Then, after beating the favored Swedes 6-3, the U.S. went on to beat Germany, 9-1, setting the stage for a showdown with the mighty Canadians. 

Paul Johnson
Olympic gold medalist Paul Johnson holds the medal he won as part of the 1960 U.S. Men's Hockey team. The team is featured in the new documentary, "Forgotten Miracle."
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis

"Canada thought they'd win the whole thing for sure.  They were really cocky," Johnson recalled.  "They had all ex-pros out of the National Hockey League - almost all of them."

The U.S. beat Team Canada 2-1, with Johnson scoring the winning goal.

"Canada still hasn't forgiven us," he said.

The U.S. next took down the mighty Soviets, holding on for a 3-2 victory.  In the gold medal game, the U.S. team was  trailing the Czech team 4-3 after the second period, but erupted for six unanswered goals and a 9-4 victory.

"Everybody really played well," said Johnson.

The story of that 1960 gold-medal winning team is the subject of a new documentary, "Forgotten Miracle."