LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The noise began building with 10 minutes left in the game, when Mike Eruzione scored the final U.S. goal. It became a roar with two minutes to go and attained a sustained pitch of frenzy with 27 seconds left. Five, four, three, two, one -- bedlam.
Mike Ramsey and Jack O'Callahan caught each other in bear hugs, tumbling on the ice like children rolling in the snow. Exultant players flung their sticks into the air, where the sticks mingled with the joyous chant of "U! S! A!" from the more than 8,000 people jammed into the Olympic Fieldhouse.
Jim Craig found himself at the bottom of a pile of his ecstatic, wriggling teammates. "I'm just happy to be in the Olympics," said Craig, the 22-year-old goaltender from the U.S. hockey team. "To have been here and to have beaten the Russians, well, it's incredible."
Nothing is incredible any more for this young team. Not even beating the supposedly invincible Russians, who had defeated them convincingly, 10-3, in Madison Square Garden two weeks ago. The Russians had lost only three of 45 games in seven Olympic tournaments until they met the enthusiastic Americans last night.
"They just didnt seem to want it as much any more," right wing John Harrington said. "We knew if we went out and played 100 percent we could do it."
Even after they had beaten the Soviets, 4-3, they still had trouble believing it. "I'm more than a little bit stunned," defenseman Bill Baker said. "We got a little confidence in the third period when we got a few breaks. We're fortunate to have beaten such an excellent team as the Soviets."
They were fortunate and they were good when they had to be. Craig kept them in the game with early first-period saves on Viktor Zhluktov and Aleksandr Maltsev. He kept the Soviets from running away in the second period, when they outshot the Americans, 12-12, and took a 3-2 lead. And Craig helped to preserve the fragile 4-3 margin the United States had built on third-period goals by Mark Johnson and Eruzione. When the United States went into a defensive shell, Craig staved off the persistent Russian attack. He stopped Vladimir Petrov twice in the final minutes, once from the blue line and once on a backhander from close range.
"You've got to try and keep good teams like this to three goals or under," said Craig, a native of North Easton, Mass., and a graduate of Boston University. "We worked hard and we believe in ourselves. Sometimes it may be labeled cocky, but we know we have to have confidence in what we're doing.
"We needed some breaks tonight and we got them. We frustrated the Russians for the first time that I can remember. They panicked toward the end. They skate and pass better than anybody but they were sloppy and were trying to get out of the zone any way they could. They didn't go for the sharp little passes they usually do."
The Soviets did not look sharp from the beginning, though they scored first at 9:12 on a slow shot from the point by Vladimir Krutov. Buzz Schneider tied it less than five minutes later by taking a pass from Mark Pavelich off the left-wing boards and lifting it over Vladimir Tretiak's right leg. The Soviets came back when Sergei Makarov walked in on Craig for an easy goal at 17:34.
The Russians' downfall came near the end of the first period. With seven seconds on the clock, defenseman Dave Christian lofted the puck toward the Tretiak from outside the red line. The Soviet goaltender made a kick save and left the puck at his feet. Suddenly, Johnson swooped in and batted the puck past Tretiak a second before the period was to end. The Russians already had exited and had to be coaxed back onto the ice for the last second of play. When they returned, Vladimir Myshkin was in goal. And he played the rest of the game.
"After the first period, I realized Tretiak was too nervous," Soviet assistant coach Vladimir Jurzinov said through an interpreter. "But I would like to give credit to the entire U.S. team. Their goaltending was fantastic. Our goalies did not play well and our defense was not tops."
It was much less than that when Johnson walked around Sergei Starikov at 8:39 of the third and beat Myshkin between the legs to tie the score at 3-3. It was even worse when Pavelich took the puck away from a Soviet defenseman in the corner and fed Harrington, who found Eruzione near the blue line. Eruzione, the 25-year-old captain of the U.S. squad, skated in and beat Myshkin cleanly.
The players say they are sure they won't have an emotional letdown tomorrow against Finland as they did after beating Czechoslovakia in the second game of the tournament. "Not with the gold so close we don't," said Christian.
His father, Bill, scored the winning goal in the only other U.S. Olympic victory over the Soviet Union. That 1960 victory helped the United States to its only gold medal in hockey.
"It would be nice to have another gold medal in the house," the son said.