20 years ago today, the United States pulled off one of the biggest wins in hockey since the Miracle on Ice. The problem – nobody knew about it.
Outside of your hardcore hockey fans and Brett Hull die-hards, almost nobody knew about the World Cup of Hockey 20 years ago. The other problem? It was one of the most intriguing international tournaments outside the 1980 or 2010 Olympics.
The only reason St. Louis Blues fans would have known about it at the time was because Hull was taking part. Technically, Wayne Gretzky was still a member of the team when the tournament took place as well.
Outside of that, there was little known about the tournament building up to it and during it. Quite the shame given how well Brett Hull and Team USA played.
The tournament was a new project to begin with. The “World Cup” was originally known as the Canada Cup, but was being rebranded in an effort to gain more international appeal.
Team USA started out pool play quite spectacularly. They shocked Team Canada 5-3 in Philadelphia. The Americans then skated past Russia and walloped Slovakia.
The Red, White and Blue won Group A with a perfect record of 3-0. They outscored their opponents 19-8 granting them a first round bye in the knock out stages.
Team Sweden won the other pool, also getting a bye. Team Canada progressed with an easy win over Germany and then took down the Swedes in double OT by a final of 3-2.
The USA took down Russia, by the same score they had in the group stages (5-2). That set up the best two-of-three series for the finals. One game in Philly and potentially two in Montreal.
Things didn’t look good for the Americans after the first game. They put up a valiant effort, but fell in overtime 4-3.
The extra problem with that game was it was in Philadelphia. So, the U.S. had lost its only game on home ice. It seemed inevitable that the Canadians would win.
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That’s not the American style. Canada came out overconfident in the first game in Montreal, on September 12, and were soundly defeated 5-2.
That set up the do-or-die final game. Winner take all, 20 years ago as of September 14, in front of a highly partisan Montreal crowd.
The Golden Brett, a Canadian by birth, was not going to allow his adopted country to go down. He scored the initial goal of the game to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead from the powerplay. Interestingly, Hull scored against his old teammate, Curtis Joseph.
The Canadians tied it up with only six seconds left in the second period. They seemingly had victory within their grasp when they took the lead about midway through the third.
It was up to Hull to lead the charge again. In typical Brett Hull fashion, he answered the bell.
The Americans took the victory in about the most gut-punchingly wonderful way possible. Hull tied it up with about four minutes to go. Then, Team USA punched in three goals – a total of four in the final four minutes – to take home the inaugural World Cup.
Mike Richter was the hero of the tournament. His stellar play allowed Team USA to focus on playing offensive hockey because they knew he was going to make the key saves.
Hull led the way offensively, leading the tournament with seven goals and 11 points in the seven games. He solidified what Blues fans already knew – that he could score at will and was one of the best pure goal scorers of all time.
Sadly, if you didn’t have a ticket to one of these games, you likely didn’t hear about any of it. Sports Illustrated ran a piece on it afterward, but not much was known during.
Those things would happen today. There’s too much of an online presence.
Back then, even though 1996 doesn’t seem so long ago, there were no websites to cover it. The NHL was still dealing with the glow puck on Fox, after all.
It’s a victory that should be celebrated. Team Canada boasted one of the most impressive rosters this side of the Summit Series.
Team USA didn’t care. They rode the hot goaltender and Hull, and some other very talented names (some of whom would play for the Blues later), provided the rest.
Can the current team of Americans do the same? Likely not.
However, nobody thought that team would either. That’s why they play the game and why we watch.