Magoosh English Class: The Miracle On Ice (Ice Hockey Pt. 2)

In part two of our free English class series Sports in America: Ice Hockey series, we will take a closer look at one of the greatest moments in America’s sports history: The Miracle on Ice!


  • Learn about international ice hockey competitions
  • Learn more general English and ice hockey-related vocabulary
  • Learn how to use popular sports idioms
  • Learn about the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics

Difficulty Level:



Approximately 15 minutes

The 1980 Winter Olympics and a Miracle on Ice

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

Every four years, the Summer and Winter Olympics bring the greatest athletes from around the world to compete against one another. During the Winter Olympics, the men’s ice hockey tournament is one of the most popular sporting events, as it gathers together some of the most talented hockey players from around the world. Each team represents its home country, giving the competition a heightened sense of importance on the international stage.

Going for Gold

Historically, Canada and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) have dominated the Olympic ice hockey competitions, winning a combined total of 17 gold medals (out of a possible 24) since the tournament began in 1920. Even though the United States is home to some of the best ice hockey players in the world, the country has only brought home 2 gold medals: one in 1960 and one in 1980.

However, the story of America’s win at the 1980 Winter Olympics is one for the ages. Leading up to the tournament, the Soviet Union was picked as a clear favorite to win. The Soviet team was stacked with some of the world’s most elite and experienced ice hockey players. Additionally, the Soviets had won the gold medal in five of the previous 6 matches.

On the other side of the world, the U.S. team was not looking as formidable. In fact, they were clearly the underdog. The team was mostly amateur players, with many of the young starters coming to the Olympic games with minimal experience in the minor leagues.

The Final Rounds

Both the Soviet and U.S. teams went into the final rounds undefeated. The game that came to be known as the “Miracle on Ice” took place in Lake Placid, New York. Coach Herb Brooks sent his players out onto the ice rink that day, fully expecting to lose against the heavily-favored Soviets. Nonetheless, the teams finished the first period tied 2-2.

In the second period, the Soviet Union put in their backup goalie, replacing one of the best goaltenders in the world at the time. The Soviets scored a goal and kept a strong defense against the Americans. By the end of the second period, the score was 3-2 in the Soviets’ favor.

In the third and final period, the U.S. team managed to score two goals in a row. Defensively, they kept the aggressive Soviet offense to just one goal, finishing the match with a 4-3 victory. As the players celebrated their surprise upset, sports commentator Al Michaels famously declared, “Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!”

The Aftermath

Two days later, the U.S. team beat the Sweden team and became the 1980 gold medalist. Despite winning the gold medal, the “Miracle on Ice” game against the Soviet Union went down as one of the greatest moments in sports history. In 2004, the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team was even made into a movie titled Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as coach Herb Brooks.

Here’s a look back at what led the moment that would make history:

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • Formerly – (adverb) – Previously; previously known as.
    • The Soviet Union, formerly the ice hockey world champions, fell to the American team in 1980.
  • One for the ages – (idiom) – Very memorable or historically significant.
    • The 1980 U.S. team was one for the ages.
  • Formidable – (adjective) – Intimidating; powerful.
    • The Soviet team had one of the most formidable defenses in the world.
  • Underdog – (noun) – A person or team that is expected to lose in a competition.
    • Even though they were the underdog, the U.S. ice hockey team came out on top.
  • Amateur – (noun/adjective) – An inexperienced person; to lack experience in a certain skill or activity.
    • Amateur hockey players usually struggle at the international level.
  • Starter – (noun) – An athlete who participates at the beginning of a match.
    • The Soviet starters were not expecting a challenge from the American players.
  • Minor League – (noun) – A league or group below the professional level.
    • In 1980, the American team was forced to build its starting lineup from minor league players.
  • Undefeated – (adjective) – Unbeaten; having won every game.
    • It’s difficult to maintain an undefeated record for an entire season.
  • Favored – (adjective) – Preferred; expected to win (in sports).
    • The 2020 U.S. men’s team is favored to take home the gold medal.
  • Goalie – (noun) – Short for “goaltender;” the position in hockey or soccer responsible for defending the goal.
    • The American goalie had limited experience on the international stage.
  • Upset – (noun/verb) – An unexpected outcome; to knock something over; (in sports and politics) to beat the expected winner.
    • The upset at the 1980 Winter Olympics stunned ice hockey fans around the world.
  • Medalist – (noun) – A team or athlete that earns a medal (usually bronze, silver, or gold).
    • The Soviet Union was the silver medalist in men’s ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Grammar Center: Sports Idioms

If you’ve ever had a conversation about sports in English, you know that the subject has its own unique vocabulary. In addition to the different terms for positions, equipment, and competitions, there are also sports idioms to describe different actions on and off the field. Here’s one such idiom from the passage above:

However, the story of America’s win at the 1980 Winter Olympics is one for the ages.

While “one for the ages” is technically not unique to sports, it is commonly used to describe significant games or noteworthy moments in sports history. Alternatively, many English idioms are taken from sports and used in a variety of settings unrelated to athletics. Here are a few examples:

  • The ball is in your court (basketball, tennis, or volleyball) – You can say this to someone when it is their responsibility to do something.
    • I know you came to me for advice about your relationship, but the ball is in your court. You need to decide what to do on your own.
  • Front runner (track or any kind of race) – Someone or something that is expected to win; the person currently in the lead in a competition.
    • Kevin is always the front runner at our weekly poker game.
  • Go to bat for someone (baseball) – To defend or help someone.
    • My coworker lost the paperwork, but I will go to bat for him if our boss finds out.
  • The home stretch (any kind of race) – The final part of a race or activity.
    • We’ve started the last week of classes, so we’re finally at the home stretch.
  • Jump the gun (track) – To start too early.
    • I don’t want to jump the gun by proposing to my girlfriend on our third date.
  • Level playing field (any field sport) – Everyone has an equal chance of success.
    • If schools accept applications based on merit, then it is a level playing field for everyone.
  • Neck and neck (horse racing) – A close competition; a race in which two or more participants are at the same place.
    • My friends are neck and neck in the race for class president.

Now you can use these sports idioms to spice up your own English conversations!

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn!
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