As the state gears up for Hockey Day Minnesota this weekend, I decided to psych myself up for the event with a box-office hit. I turned off my phone, grabbed a notepad and pen, and watched “Miracle” for the first time. Yes, the first time. Embarrassing, I know. I’ve lived in Minnesota for six years, and I can finally call it home now that I’ve seen this movie.
Hockey Day Minnesota celebrates the game that distinguishes Minnesota from the rest of the country and, above all, the kids who play it. With a full schedule of high school hockey games, the event highlights the amateur spirit that Herb Brooks sowed in his 1980 Olympic team.
“Miracle” portrays the 11-month journey of the 1980 United States hockey team as they train for the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. Head coach Herb Brooks selects a ragtag group of college players, against the guidance of the advisory staff, and aims to unite the discordant pack as one team, the United States of America. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the team’s “little guy” reputation emerged from their sharp contrast to the cohesive, systematic play style of the Soviet Union. Thus, Team USA’s victory over the Soviet Union represented more than an Olympic “W” to the American public (it wasn’t even the championship game, though they won that too): it was a testament to the underdog. In turn, “Miracle” is a comeback kid love story.
The United States’ socio-political tensions look different than those of the late ‘70s, but the lessons that Herb Brooks’ illustrates in “Miracle” are evergreen.
“I’m not looking for the best players, Craig. I’m looking for the right ones.”
On the first day of what was supposed to be a weeklong tryout, Herb hands his preliminary roster to assistant coach Craig Patrick. Perplexed, Craig asks whether the advisory staff needs to sign off on the selections and points out that some of the best players aren’t listed. Faced with Craig’s doubt, Herb demonstrates absolute confidence in his decisions, method, and players.
Here, the key theme of trust in self and process becomes evident. From Herb’s interview for the coaching position, to his style of choosing and training players, he breaks from traditional conventions with stubborn conviction. He understood and believed in his process before anybody–especially those who hired him– could envision it. His steadfast unorthodoxy dredged up doubt from peers and higher-ups, putting him in a similar underdog position to the players themselves. Herb’s underdog narrative as a coach runs parallel to the teams. When nobody had faith in the roster, Herb did. When nobody placed confidence in Herb, he placed it in himself.
“If we play ’em 10 times, they might win nine, but not this game.”
Herb expresses a keen awareness of the team’s shot at winning against the Soviets in this quote from his pre-game speech. Undoubtedly, the juxtaposition in size and age between the two teams would send any fan, player, or coach’s heart plummeting into their stomach. Herb, however, hints at the US team’s secret ingredient: unwavering belief in miracles. Perhaps the Soviets could wipe the ice with the US team nine times out of ten, but that night was special. That night, they were the greatest hockey team in the world.
There’s a special place in American hearts for the unpolished amateur. Underdog narratives serve as the bread and butter of American history, dating all the way back to claiming independence from Great Britain– and with the Russian team effectively operating as members of the army, the battle metaphor isn’t far-fetched. The ice that day was both an ideological battleground and a blank sheet on which dreams could be projected.
“Who do you play for?”
“I play for… The United States of America!”
And who could forget the famous moment when player Mike Eruzione announces his membership to the US national team during a brutal round of conditioning. Breaking the pattern of player introductions where individuals stated their outside hockey affiliation, Eruzione indicates that he identifies with the players to his left and right. In this scene, we begin to see Herb’s method of building a single team unit, rather than a mix of super talented individuals, come to fruition.
“Miracle” tells the story of what we’re capable of accomplishing when we have faith in ourselves, our team, and miracles.
Herb Brooks’ legacy lives on through events like Hockey Day Minnesota that celebrate all levels of hockey. Shortly after Herb’s death in 2003, his family established the Herb Brooks Foundation which strives to grow the game of hockey and give kids a positive experience in the game.