1960 Olympics hockey: Recalling the great gold strike at Squaw Valley
Special to the Sun
They still had the great John Mayasich of Eveleth, Minn., high scorer on the 1956 Olympic team and the man with a slap shot that he hit so hard from center ice that the rock-hard puck flew at the goalie at more than 100 mph. But, otherwise, American hockey prospects for the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley did not look good.
Harvard All-Americans Bill and Bob Cleary arrived late and to a cool reception by the Midwesterners. Coach Jack Riley didn’t invite University of Minnesota star goalie John McCartan until the whole squad asked him to, and at one point three-fourths of the squad threatened to drop out altogether and go home. The team, though, blessed with some of the best American amateur players ever, was even losing practice games to northern Minnesota Iron Range teams. To cap it all, Riley, saying that their only hope of beating Canada and Russia was to and#8220;out-conditionand#8221; them, was holding daily three-hour leg-strengthening drills, to the edge of exhaustion. The New York Times gave two inches to the team. Sports Illustrated said America would come in fifth.
But Jack Riley didn’t buy it: and#8220;I don’t care who we play. We’re going to be undefeated. We’re going to beat every team here and the hell with it.and#8221;
And, for openers, the United States came from behind to beat a young, fast, Canadian-coached Czech team 7-5, and then went on to beat Australia 12-1, Sweden 6-3, and Germany 8-1. Mayasich made three unassisted goals against the Czechs, Bill Cleary four goals against Germany. Against both teams the Americans scored four goals in the final period. Conditioning was paying off. Against Sweden, Roger Christian, and#8220;a carpenter from Warroad, Minnesota,and#8221; [at the Canadian border; 1960 pop. 1,309] as the Times perhaps condescendingly described him, came off a bruised knee to score three goals. He described himself as and#8220;a man of few words.and#8221; Riley said Christian said and#8220;helloand#8221; to him when he arrived and and#8220;goodbyeand#8221; when Squaw Valley ended and they left.
Now it was Canada (1952 champion), then Russia (1956), and the strong Czech team again. Canada had scored 40 goals, and given up just three, in their first four games, and was a seven-goal favorite. They played it tough. Their game with Sweden had 14 penalties, a fist fight and finished off the Swedish captain with four broken ribs in the opening period. But John Mayasich broke up the final drive by Canada, and McCartan began to edge out of the net and slap the ice with his stick, the sign of victory. With 39 saves, it was his greatest game. The score was 2-1. The crowd went crazy. Even Jack Riley raced out from the bench to pile onto the players smothering McCartan. Mayasich refused to talk to reporters from Sports Illustrated.
Nonetheless, not five people in Squaw Valley thought the United States could best the Soviets. They never had and, moreover, the two teams, entertaining themselves in the evenings by jointly leading the KGB astray, had become good friends. and#8220;The Russians were just like us. We couldn’t understand them, but they were great guys.and#8221; (Roger Christian).
But, friendship or not, only 4 minutes into the first period Bob Cleary stole the puck from a Russian wing and Bill whacked it in from 15 feet. The Russians scored next, but Bill Christian, Roger’s brother and an All-American at Minnesota, put in two more. Final score, U.S.A. 3, Russia 2. McCartan’s saves were 31.
The Times: and#8220;The final buzzer was greeted by one of the most vociferous outbursts ever seen after an amateur game. The American players threw their sticks into the air and#8230;. The and#8216;deliriously happy’ standing-room crowd of 9,000 rose, cheered, and slapped their neighbors on the back.and#8221; Planeloads of passengers all over America erupted in a roar as pilots broke the news. Forty million Americans watched it on TV, more than the combined audience of every other program on the air.
The United States still had to beat the Czechs again to clinch the gold. The game was at 8 the next morning, the sun was directly in McCartan’s eyes, he couldn’t see the puck, and 8 seconds into the game the Czechs led, 1-0. And, as before, after two periods the Czechs led, 4-3.
The team was tired. Some, still excited over beating Russia, hadn’t slept a wink. McCartan and#8220;had seen nothing but pucks flying at himand#8221; all night long. Nicolai Sologubov, the Russian captain, was riding the American bench. Solugubov suggested oxygen. It was not restricted. At 6,000 feet, the Russians used it regularly. Some of the Americans went along, but Roger Christian said and#8220;I ain’t going to take it. If I have to, I’ll go out and beat them goddamn guys myself.and#8221;
But those and#8220;guysand#8221; were good?very good. They had just beaten Germany, 9-1. Against the United States they had scored more goals in five periods than Russia, Canada and the other three teams, combined, had scored in five full games. And now, 6 minutes into the final period, it still was 4-3.
And then, suddenly, the front line exploded like a bomb. It was Roger with and#8220;a beautyand#8221; (Bob Cleary’s words) from 20 feet, followed by Bob Cleary for two, followed by Roger, then Bill Cleary, and then and#8212; yes and#8212; Roger again. Roger and the Clearys had made three goals in 67 seconds and it was 9-4 and the whole Russian team was pouring into the American locker room shouting, over and over, and#8220;The best team won! The best team won! The best team won!and#8221; To sportswriter Ross Bernstein it was and#8220;one of the greatest third periods in Olympic history.and#8221; Roger Christian, the and#8220;carpenter from Warroad,and#8221; had made the famous and#8220;hat trickand#8221; (three goals in a game) in half a period, enough, indeed, to win the game himself. He led the team in total tourney goals, with seven. Bill or Bob Cleary, or both, had scored in every game.
Fifth place? Carpenters from little towns? Adios amigos!
Credits: Seamus O’Coughlin, Squaw Valley Gold; The New York Times (direct press quotes); Tom Sersha, Executive Director, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Eveleth, MN; Ross Bernstein, The Hall, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame; Neither Seamus O’Coughlin nor his publisher could be located for permissions.
Bill Cleary, ’56, became Harvard hockey coach, then Director of Athletics.