Most Americans think of the "Miracle on Ice" as their greatest hockey achievement. In 1980 Team USA upset the Soviet Red Army squad en route to only their second gold medal in Olympic hockey competition.
Notice how I said second gold medal. That's because 20 years earlier the Americans had an earlier miracle on ice.
The first American gold medal in Olympic Hockey also came on home soil, but instead on the other side of the country, Squaw Valley California. Goaltender Jack McCartan was the hero on back then.
McCartan, born in St. Paul Minnesota, and the United States were given little chance to win in 1960, not with the Soviet squad quickly emerging as the international force and Canada not far removed from past Olympic glories.
After winning four games in the preliminary round, the upbeat American squad backed by the hometown fans passed their biggest test of the tournament by edging Canada, 2-1. McCartan was the difference, posting 39 saves.
Up next was the heavily favored Russians, yet the U.S. rallied from behind to stun the Red Army squad 3-2, thus advancing the United States into the gold medal game against Czechoslovakia. It was a close game for the first two periods. The Czechoslovakians held a 4-3 lead at the second intermission. But again the Americans rallied, this time exploding for six goals in the final frame to take the win 9-4 and the gold medal.
"We knew with a couple of breaks we could upset the odds." recalled goalie Jack McCartan. McCartan provided the team with those breaks, and inspired the American's to their first Olympic gold medal in hockey.
McCartan went on to a brief stint with the New York Rangers but was a minor leaguer for the most part at the pro level.