Two goals inside of 24 seconds from VALERY KHARLAMOV (left) and ALEXANDER YAKUSHEV (right) with under five minutes remaining lifted the USSR to a dramatic 4-3 decision over Czechoslovakia on the final day at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
As classic a de facto Gold Medal Match as Olympic history has to offer…
Ever since half a million soldiers from the armies of the SOVIET UNION and other Warsaw Pact nations invaded CZECHOSLOVAKIA back in 1968, international sporting events between the two nations had soared to new heights for intensity as well as competitiveness — especially in ice hockey.
Even before the decisive final twenty minutes at the finale of the 1976 Winter Olympic tournament, one cannot say that Czechoslovakia did not have ample opportunity to defeat the Soviet Union and deliver a powerful message of symbolic revenge in the final game at Innsbruck.
At the clash of Eastern-bloc arch-rivals and contemporary international ice hockey powerhouses in the Austrian Alps, the USSR were shooting for a fourth consecutive set of gold medals at the Winter Games; Czechoslovakia were coveting the first Olympic title in their nation’s history.
The Czechoslovaks, in fact, were already leading 2-0 thru centers MILAN NOVY (6) and IVAN HLINKA (10) midway through the second period when a glorious chance arrived. A pair of Soviets in the box gave Czechoslovakia a 5-on-3 power play which, however, went by the boards thanks to the noteable efforts of USSR center VLADIMIR SHADRIN (19) as well as defensemen YURI LIAPKIN (5) and GENNADY TSYGANKOV (7) on the penalty-kill.
Having earned the reprieve, the Soviets thereafter responded with goals from Shadrin and fellow centerman VLADIMIR PETROV (16) to knot the match and leave all to play for in the third period.
Czechoslovakia’s JIRI HOLOCEK (2) and the USSR’s VLADISLAV TRETIAK (20) each managed to keep all pucks out over the first half of the last period.
It is at this point that the uninterupted footage presented by WORLD HOCKEY begins, with roughly ten minutes left in the third at the OLYMPIA EISHALLE in Innsbruck and the score level at USSR 2 – CSSR 2 :
Roughly a 1:20 into the clip, the Czechoslovak captain and center of a doping scandal at Innsbruck, FRANTISEK POSPISIL (7), collects a Soviet clearance in his own end and skates the puck well behind his own net before embarking on a mid-ice rush. At the red line, the defenseman squares the puck for his streaking SONP Kladno teammate EDUARD NOVAK (22).
Once inside the Soviet zone and seemingly surrounded, the 29-year-old right wing quickly fires a wrist-shot that appears to take a deflection off of defenseman ALEANDER GUSEV (2) and fool Tretiak in the USSR goal. An indelible, if premature, celebration from Novak ensues. The Czechoslovaks are now nine minutes less two seconds from the Olympic gold medal.
A few minutes later, Czechoslovak will critically fail to widen their lead, however. At the 4:35 mark of the clip, the veteran Olympian JIRI HOLIK (20) circles his own cage and heads down the right on a rink-length rush before deftly dishing the disc to BOHUSLAV STASTNY (12). Although at first apparently beaten, the catllike Tretiak is able to thwart the Tesla Pardubice wing with a last-ditch dive and literally save the game for the USSR.
This stop proves to be absolutely critical for, soon, the Soviet Union will immediately strike back after the go-ahead goal-scorer Novak is sent to the penalty box with less than six minutes to play for a foul on BORIS MIKHAILOV (13) along the left wing boards.
The Czechoslovaks do not appear to be in such bad shape on the penalty-kill until Tysgankov pulls a smart move in front of his pursuer Novy’s bench and sends the speeding VIKTOR SHALIMOV (9) the puck. A procession of drop passes among Spartak players produces a goal-mouth scramble. Finally, Shalimov is able to poke the puck across to ALEXANDER YAKUSHEV (15) on the right and, in an instant, the game is tied.
Considering the earlier victory at Innsbruck Czechoslovakia were made to forfeit on account of Pospisil’s failed drug test following the Poland match, a draw was enough to do the deal for the Soviets in their last match.
Within a scant 24 seconds, however, the result was rendered beyond doubt in the Gold Medal Match at Innsbruck.
Petrov controls an offensive zone face-off and immediately slips the puck past defenseman JIRI BUBLA (19) to a wide-open VALERY KHARLAMOV (17) in front of the Czechoslovak goal. With Holocek now caught out of position, the whole of the net is at the CSKA Moscow left wing’s mercy. Kharlamov makes no mistake as the USSR surge suddenly ahead.
Four minutes minus one second still remain to be contested but it is almost immediately evident that the Czechoslovaks’ spirit has been effectively eliminated by the Soviets’ lightning-quick, consecutive goals in the second half of the third period.
The Soviets begin to practice some possession hockey in earnest and, thus, severely crimp Czechoslovakia’s chances for the two goals the blue helmets now require to take the gold medal.
In fact, it is the Soviets who have all the best opportunities the rest of the way; a single long wrist shot from Novak easily swept aside by Tretiak with under a minute to go summarized Czechoslovakia’s most dangerous counterattack.
After the CSKA Moscow puck tamer turned away a desperation drive from outside the blueline by OLDRICH MACHAC (4) in the waning moments, the USSR’s run of Olympic supremacy since 1964 remained in tact.
For the fifth time in six appearances at the Winter Games, the Soviet Union are Olympic ice hockey champions.
Additional highlight footage from the 1976 de facto Gold Medal Match at the Olympia Eishalle in Innsbruck.
The slow-motion shots of the third Soviet goal provides a different angle for the viewing connoisseur.
The uninhibited frustration to be found on the faces of the Czechoslovaks at their bench following Yakushev’s tying goal is rather insightful, as well.