When one thinks of the Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics, any self-respecting hockey fan instantly thinks of the U.S.A.'s Gold Medal "miracle on ice". Indeed, a group of American college kids ended up slaying the Russian bear, but in most circles Team Canada was rated higher than the States going into the '80 Games.
Canada had played the U.S eight times prior to the Olympics and won five of those games. As well, they had defeated the Soviets in the once prestigious Izvestia tournament over Christmas 1979 right in Moscow. They thus became the first Canadian team to win on Russian soil since the 1972 Summit Series. Canada had also beaten both the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers in pre-season tune ups. This was a team that was peaking, but in hindsight they peaked two months too soon.
Most prognosticators had picked the Soviets and Canada finishing one, two in their six team division and Czechoslovakia and the U.S. one, two in their division. Even bigger than Canada not progressing to the second round was the Czechs failing to qualify for the medal round with losses to both the U.S. and Sweden in the prelims. Czechoslovakia had won the World Championships in 1976 and 1977 and their 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Americans in the second game of the tournament may be even more shocking than the Soviets losing by only one goal to the same young miracle-makers.
Canada's own medal hopes were destroyed mainly because of two unexpected, flukey events. In their third game they lost to Finland 4-3 on what can only be described as a "Tommy Salo/Dan Cloutier-like" 100 foot dump in on goalie Bob Dupuis. Even with this unexpected defeat, the Canadians had a good shot of continuing to the medal round if Poland did the expected and defeat Holland. The Dutch had lost to Canada 10-1 and the Soviets 17-4 while Poland had fared somewhat better losing 5-1 and 8-1 to the same two squads and had actually beaten Finland 5-4 in the opening game of the tourney. Alas the freaky, deaky Dutch bested the Poles 5-3, knocking Canada out of the second spot. Canada would have played Sweden and the U.S. in the next round, two teams they had fared well against in the past.
As an aside, the Dutch team was led by Mississauga, Ontario born Dick Decloe who scored at a point per game clip in both the OHL and Boston University during the early 1970's. Decloe tallied five points over five Olympic matches. Their goaltender Ted Lassen hailed from Oakville, Ontario and played junior with the London Knights and was also a member of the Ned Dowd-era (just prior to Slap Shot) Johnstown Jets.
There is no doubting that the American's triumph was one of the greatest underdog stories in sport history, but perhaps with just a bounce here or a break there...it could have been the Canadians writing the script.