Before the first puck was dropped at Squaw Valley, experts had selected the two teams which would fight for the 1960 hockey gold medal. One, of course, was Russia, winner at Cortina. The other was Canada. The experts paid little attention to a third squad, one which included a soldier, a fireman, a couple of carpenters, two insurance peddlers and a television advertising salesman.
Unheralded and unsung—they were sometimes lukewarmly received in towns across the country where they played before coming to the Olympics—these U.S. hockeymen drifted into Squaw Valley like wandering minstrels. They left national heroes.
In their first four games the U.S. beat Czechoslovakia, Australia, Sweden and Germany. Still, they seemed no match for Canada, which had scored 40 goals and conceded but three, or for Russia, with its marvelous pattern passing and tight defense.
Then suddenly the Swedes, playing well over their heads, tied the Russians 2-2. The tie cost Russia a vital point and made the game between the U.S. and Canada the most important of the Olympics.
In the first period Bob Cleary, an insurance salesman from Westwood, Mass., poked in a goal from 10 feet out. The crowd of 8,500 shouted, the Americans hoisted their hockey sticks in jubilation. Then Paul Johnson, of Minnesota, deftly lashed the puck past Don Head, the Canadian goalie, to put the U.S. ahead 2-0. In the third period, with six minutes remaining in the game, the Canadians scored. But it was too late for them. The time blinked away on the big scoreboards. One minute. Thirty seconds. Ten seconds. The crowd began to chant: "Ten. Nine. Eight...." With three seconds left, Goalie Jack McCartan started beating his stick on the ice, joining the crowd in the count-down. "Three," yelled the crowd. Slam, went Jack McCartan's stick. "Two." Slam. "One." Slam! The game was over.
Between the victory over Canada and the game with the Russians there was a day of rest. People followed McCartan everywhere. He told them about his son, barely a month old, whom he missed very much. He said that his wife Barbara had heard about the game with Canada and had danced around the house in total happiness.
Minutes before the Russia-U.S. game began, the organist played Just One More Chance, as if to encourage the Soviets. Shortly thereafter Bill Cleary scored for the U.S. on a pass from his brother, Bob. But within five minutes, Russia scored twice to lead 2-1. The stadium was gloomily hushed. In the locker room Jack Riley told his team, "Everyone in the nation is counting on you guys. There are millions watching you on television."
In the second period, Bill Christian, one of the American carpenters, took a pass from his brother, Roger, the other American carpenter, and tied the score. Again in the third period, Bill Christian rammed home a goal to push the U.S. ahead 3-2. Then, until the end of the game, the Americans fought the Russians off.
The next day these miraculous minstrels went out and nailed down their gold medal with one final, dramatic flourish. Behind 4-3 after two periods against Czechoslovakia, the U.S. players got a surprise visit from Nik Sologubov, the Russian captain, who came into the dressing room and urged them to take oxygen as a pickup before the final period. They did, and whether by oxygen or pure inspiration, they crushed the Czechs with a six-goal rally.