An opening montage that strings together a decade of bad-news reports establishes that by 1979 the land (the U.S.) is struggling under a curse it cannot lift. The king (Jimmy Carter) is suffering from a wound that will not heal. Our precincts (in Iran) have been invaded without opposition. Then a knight (hockey coach Herb Brooks) steps forward with a vision of how to lead a straggling band of young, unlikely heroes (his hand-picked Olympic hockey team) to do battle with the arch-enemy (the Soviet team). (The rink functions at once as Round Table for companions, tourney ground for rivals, and battlefield for foes, while Brooks as both leader and teacher combines King Arthur with a tutelary figure like Trevrizent in Parzival.) The U.S. team's victory at the 1980 games in Lake Placid (with the gold medals serving as Holy Grail) ends the long devastation and brings about a return of confidence in the people.
In other words, Eric Guggenheim's script takes this famous headline news story and shapes it to the canons of Arthurian romance. It makes sense, that a real-life event that has attained the status of lore should be treated as romance, the narrative form that for millennia has been the way humans have preserved and transmitted heroic lore. It gives a gratifying, familiar shape to a story the ending of which the audience already knows. (This is not a problem: aesthetically speaking, originality and surprise just aren't that important.)
I can't say that Gavin O'Connor's direction makes it a truly memorable example of the genre, in large part because he hasn't accepted how much the script has transmuted reality into romance. O'Connor wants to levitate you with the feats of these "knights" but he works as an extremely literal-minded realist. He puts sequences together classically, with no elisions. A tiny but telling instance: we see Brooks get out of his car in the pouring rain, run through it into his suburban house, enter and then comment to his wife how hard it's raining outside.
And yet O'Connor isn't a committed realist. He does not, for example, convey such potentially absorbing information as the negotiations among the committee members who reluctantly give Brooks the job; the basis on which Brooks chooses each of the boys who makes the team; the boys' individual styles of play and how they change under Brooks's training. O'Connor doesn't even clue us in to the rules of hockey, which he could do in passing without boring hockey fans.