It’s been 25 years since the United States shocked the hockey world by defeating Canada in the championship series of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, winning the deciding game of the best-of-3 series 5-2 in Montreal on Sept. 14, 1996.
The United States won 5-2 in Game 2 in Montreal after losing 4-3 in Game 1 in Philadelphia and took home the trophy from the inaugural World Cup, a best-on-best tournament with eight national teams featuring NHL players.
The final series was one for the ages. The lineup for each team was full of future Hockey Hall of Famers and featured the biggest names in the game. Many of the players involved went into other facets of professional hockey after their playing careers ended, and their contributions to the game are still being felt.
We asked five NHL.com writers for their thoughts on the historic championship series. Here are the answers:
Can you believe it?
“Wow. We won?”
Honestly, that’s what I remember most about the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
I was a huge hockey fan then. But as a student at the University of Michigan, which had just won the 1996 NCAA championship, I was into college hockey and the NHL. The inaugural World Cup of Hockey didn’t excite me at first. It was a new version of the Canada Cup, which, I figured, was called the Canada Cup for a reason. Canada had won it four out of five times. I’m an American.
It was not another “Miracle on Ice” when the United States won back-to-back 5-2 games against Canada in Montreal to win the tournament, but I was too young to remember the 1980 Olympics. It’s a stretch to say Mike Richter was my Jim Craig, Tony Amonte my Mike Eruzione, but not too much of one.
Canada had Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Steve Yzerman, Eric Lindros, Mark Messier — go down the list. But the United States had Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, John LeClair, Phil Housley — yeah, go down that list too.
We won. Yes, to me, surprised, inspired and proud, it was “we.” — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist
Steppingstone for United States hockey
I was a reporter for the North Jersey Herald & News and covered games from the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York and the new CoreStates Center (now Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia, including Team Canada’s 4-3 overtime victory against Team USA in Game 1 of the best-of-3 final. I didn’t travel to Montreal for Games 2 and 3, so I watched on television. What still stands out most from those two games is how well goalie Mike Richter played for Team USA, making 35 saves in each and deservingly being voted the tournament’s most valuable player. Richter kept the United States in position to come back to win 5-2 in Game 3 with Brett Hull scoring on a deflection with 3:18 remaining to tie the score at 2-2 before Tony Amonte’s winning goal 43 seconds later. Remembering how Canada swept the United States in the best-of-3 final of the 1991 Canada Cup, it immediately hit me that this first victory in a best-on-best tournament was a significant steppingstone for USA Hockey. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer
Sitting in the press box for the North Jersey Herald & News (probably right next to my then-and-now colleague Tom Gulitti), I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I was in a sold-out, rowdy, brand-new building in Philadelphia for a best-on-best international final and I was shaking — and not because of the racket being made by the fans. It was a combination of nerves and excitement. I remember thinking during the introductions – remember, this was two years before NHL players were allowed to go to the Olympics — that this might be the greatest collection of hockey talent ever assembled. The Canada starters were intimidating. Four of the six (Brendan Shanahan, Joe Sakic, Eric Lindros and Scott Stevens) went on to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Lindros, the 1995 Hart Trophy winner voted as the most valuable player in the NHL for the Philadelphia Flyers and perhaps the most feared center in the world at that moment, was relegated to right wing. The United States countered with a pair of Hall of Famers in defenseman Brian Leetch and goalie Mike Richter, the dynamic duo that had led the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup two seasons earlier. In all, 17 players on the two rosters found their way to the Hall of Fame, astounding when you think about it. The Americans lost Game 1 but made a statement that they would not be intimidated, nor go easily. Then they delivered, winning back-to-back games in Montreal and turning the balance of hockey power on its head. I’ve been blessed since to cover three Olympics (Salt Lake City, Vancouver and Sochi) and each has been among the great experiences of my lifetime, yet none holds a candle to this night. — Shawn P. Roarke, senior director of editorial
I was associate sports editor of the Montreal Gazette, in charge of the newspaper’s Sunday sports section. So it was that on Sept. 14, I was in charge of production, crushed by deadline while preparing the front page for Team Canada’s apparent victory against Team USA, the home country leading 2-1 with 3:18 left. I’m not sure how the WOE CANADA headline came to my head, but it fit the space, the reality and the mood to reflect the visitors’ stunning late four-goal outburst in the decisive championship-round game. “It is over, and what remains to be said other than it doesn’t get better, more exciting or more filled with wonderment than this,” legendary Gazette writer Red Fisher topped his story. I used four “pull quotes” on the page, snappy lines that punctuated the layout. The best was from Wayne Gretzky: “This (Canadian dressing) room is crushed. This whole country is probably crushed.” It was the most stunning defeat of a Canadian team in Montreal since Sept. 2, 1972, when the lightly regarded Soviet Union trashed Team Canada 7-3 in Game 1 of the Summit Series. Woe was Canada that night too. — Dave Stubbs, columnist
I was a Toronto Blue Jays beat writer for the Toronto Sun at the time and had just covered their 3-1 matinee loss to the New York Yankees in front of 43,397 at SkyDome. With stories having been filed, Philadelphia-based baseball scribe and hockey fan Jim Salisbury and I were off to watch the Canada-U.S. game at the Hard Rock Cafe, located above the right field wall in the stadium’s third deck. The buzz of anticipation in the place was palpable. For most of the game, the pro-Canada crowd, many decked out in either Blue Jays or Team Canada jerseys, was loud and proud. That would change in a hurry. I’ll always remember how potential celebration turned to devastation for many patrons when the Americans scored four times in the final five minutes for the 5-2 victory. They were in shock. The restaurant, so full of life minutes earlier, turned eerily silent. The exceptions: two guys in U.S. jerseys who were whooping in celebration. They deserved to. Much in the same way the Americans were deserving champions. — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
Photo: Doug MacLellan, Hockey Hall of Fame