The young men chosen to portray the members of Team USA were chosen primarily for their hockey skills due to the intense nature of the filming; acting ability was secondary. In fact, for most of them, this was their first major film.
While Al Michaels joined the film to recreate commentary for the games, Gavin O'Connor decided to use the last 10 seconds of Michaels' original "Do you believe in miracles?" call in the film because he felt he couldn't ask him to recreate the emotion he experienced at that moment. Thus they cleaned up the recording to make the transition to the authentic call as seamlessly as possible.
The scene where Brooks makes the team skate back and forth on the ice all night, after their 3-3 tie with Norway, was actually done by the real actors over a span of three days - 12 hours a day. The director wanted the moment to be as realistic as possible.
The World Trade center is shown in 1980, a digital recreation of the Twin Towers was used, being the first time they have been created (instead of just filmed) for a movie since the terrorist attacks on the USA of 11 September 2001.
Michael Mantenuto got into a fight with another player who picked on him and other guys on the ice during tryouts. He apologized to director Gavin O'Connor afterwards, to which Gavin responded, "No, that was good." Michael ended up winning the part of Jack O'Callahan, the defenseman dubbed "the first one to drop his gloves".
To avoid confusion, during filming Kurt Russell referred to the actors/hockey players cast as Team USA exclusively by their corresponding characters' names or nicknames, not their real names. For the most part, the Team USA actors maintained this policy among themselves also.
In real life, the "Herbies" after the Norway game did not end with Mike Eruzione saying he played for the United States of America. They instead ended with Mark Johnson's frustration of having to do the Herbies, where he smashed his stick against the glass.
The game against the Soviets was filmed in Vancouver at the PNE Agrodome - an arena featured in another legendary USA Vs. USSR battle; the Soviet arena where Rocky fought Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (1985).
During filming at a residence of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, rowdy residents disturbed filming by hanging USSR flags in the residence windows, reporting the shoot to the fire marshal, yelling distracting taunts at the actors, and even stealing Kurt Russell's chair.
Kurt Russell is right-handed, but he used his left hand in the movie because Herb Brooks was a lefty, and this attention to detail shows how deeply Russell got into his role and how closely he studied Brooks to BECOME Herb Brooks for this film rather than just being an actor playing a hockey coach named Herb Brooks for the film.
The referee for the semifinal game is played by Ryan Walter, an ex-NHLer and Vancouver native who finished his career as a Vancouver Canuck and was a technical consultant for the movie. He "choreographed" all the hockey scenes to be realistic and the goals to be exactly as they really were. He has also said that he had to down-grade his skating in order to better impersonate the Finnish referee Carl-Gustav Kaisla.
There are two "bookend" moments in the film. The first is where the audience sees Robbie McClanahan taping his hockey stick in the locker room before the try-outs, and then sees him doing the same thing in the locker room immediately before the Soviet Olympic game. It ties the early, rag-tag hopefuls together with the conditioned, tightly-bonded Olympic team. The second is when Mark Johnson looks nervous and looks away first in the face-off against the Soviet captain in the warm-up game in Madison Square Garden, but in the face-off at the beginning of the Olympic game, Mark out-stares the Soviet captain and forces him to look away first. It shows the confidence and determination of the US team on that fateful evening compared with their insecurity just 13 days previously against the Soviet Union in New York City.
Prior to joining the U.S. Olympic hockey team both Mike Eruzione and Buzz Schneider played in the International Hockey League. Eruzione for the Toledo Goal diggers and Schneider for the Milwaukee Admirals. When the team played the IHL All-Stars it was a reunion with their old teammates and opponents.
At the national team hockey tryouts, one of the main characters, Jack O'Callahan greets another player Jim Craig, by saying, "What's up, you sieve!" In ice hockey slang, a sieve is a goal tender who allows too many shots to go through into his/her net. Jim Craig was the goalie for the American team.
During the actual ABC network broadcast of the game between the USA and Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympics, ABC ran two commercials for a made for TV film called Elvis (1979) filmed in 1979 that was to be broadcast on the Monday following the end of the Olympics. Kurt Russell starred as Elvis Presley in the film and is shown in the commercials, in addition to playing Herb Brooks in the main movie.
Right before the Soviets score the first goal of the game, Schneider is slashed by Krutov, falls down on the ice and loses control of the puck to a Soviet player. In the real game, however, there is no slash on the play, only a stick check by Krutov which is permitted in ice hockey, and Schneider doesn't fall either.
Scene where Herb talks to Jim Craig about his commitment to the team was filmed on a Friday night at the dorms of the University of British Columbia. Rowdy students placed Canadian flags in windows and cranked the music. Kurt Russell's cast chair was stolen.
Although Mike Rich's screenplay was used during production and was substantially different from drafts by the film's first writer, Eric Guggenheim, he lost all claim to screenwriting credit to Guggenheim in an arbitration conducted by the Writers Guild of America.
The national anthem heard at Madison Square Garden is performed by Lauren Hart, who began singing the anthem on a regular basis at Philadelphia Flyers home games in 1997. Hart is also the daughter of late NHL Hall of Fame announcer Gene Hart, who broadcast for the Flyers from 1967-1995.
For the portions filmed in Rossland, British Columbia, several vintage city buses were provided by Selkirk College in Nelson, BC. Of the three buses prepared by the college, only one survived the trip from Nelson to Rossland. One bus burned up its transmission and another bus kept blowing tires. The bus that did make it to Rossland burned excessive amounts of oil and was said to be extremely troublesome to the film crew.
Patti Brooks: Herb Brooks' wife Patti is in the movie as an extra in the stands during the U.S. vs. Russia game. You can see her positioned up and to the left of the actor who portrayed Jim Craig's dad in the movie, during many of his scenes during the U.S.-vs.-Russia game. She also appears in a couple of scenes with Walter Bush, the director of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Comittee.