Sign in with your NHL account:
  • Submit
  • Or
  • Sign in with Google
 
SHARE

Lamoriello built Team USA's '96 World Cup team

Tuesday, 11.03.2009 / 9:00 AM / Hall of Fame

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

"We did a lot of unique and little things that we do in New Jersey all the time and the players bought in. It was very, very gratifying because that is something that nobody expected."
-- Lou Lamoriello

It wasn't quite the 1980 Miracle on Ice, but the 1996 World Cup of Hockey title was still a seminal moment for USA Hockey.

And Lou Lamoriello, who is being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builders category on Nov. 9, was the architect of Team USA's triumph, the Americans' first world hockey title since the aforementioned 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid.

Interestingly, two of the three men who will join Lamoriello in th 2009 Hockey Hall of Fame class -- defenseman Brian Leetch and forward Brett Hull -- played for the Team USA squad that upset Team Canada in the three-game final. Forwards Steve Yzerman and Luc Robitaille are the other inductee.

"(Lou) was very in control and had an idea of how everything should be run," Leetch, the American captain, told NHL.com.

In fact, Lamoriello set the tone the very first day the team reported to Providence, R.I., Lamoriello's hometown, for training camp at Providence College, his alma mater.

"The World Cup was a challenge," Lamoriello told NHL.com. "I remember vividly the first meeting we had at Providence College and (I said), if we are not committed to winning and making the sacrifice, then we shouldn't be here."
 
And there were plenty of questions about whether the veteran American team would be interested in buying into what the traditionally hardline Lamoriello -- aided by his equally demanding coaching staff of Ron Wilson, Paul Holmgren and John Cuniff -- was selling.

"We had 30 days of sheer dedication and commitment in getting guys together," Lamoriello, the longtime New Jersey Devils executive said. "We went to the ballgames, we played golf; but the work ethic and the discipline were there and the end result paid off. We did a lot of unique and little things that we do in New Jersey all the time and the players bought in. It was very, very gratifying because that is something that nobody expected."

Actually, according to Leetch, the training camp wasn't all that bad. Playing for the New York Rangers, the Devils' cross-Hudson River rivals, Leetch had heard the stories about how intransigent Lamoriello could be.

"Lou has a stubborn streak that you could drive a truck on, but, then again, most brilliant people have that same characteristic," is how Brian Burke, who once played for Lamoriello at Providence College and is now the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, described his mentor to NHL.com. "Critics call it stubborn, but more astute observers call it brilliance."

In this case, Lamoriello showed his brilliance by not digging in his heels too deep, says Leetch.

"He had everything scheduled every day from team activities to free time," Leetch said. "A few of the guys were like, 'Hey we need a little bit of free time, we don't always have to be together.'

"What I thought was interesting, was his ability -- we had a lot of strong personalities on that team, from Brett Hull to (Jeremy) Roenick, to (Chris) Chelios -- to listen to the players on different scheduled things. I think he realized that he had a group of guys that wanted to win and wanted to compete and if they wanted to do a few things differently, it was OK -- as long as his basic outline was followed. He had the right players he wanted and he just wanted to make sure we went about business the right way."

Once Lamoriello saw the players were serious about the task before them, he was willing to relent a little when Leetch came to him asking for a compromise.

"Brian was the captain and I had tremendous respect for Brian," Lamoriello said. "Brian and I go back to when Brian was in college. If there is something rational that is brought forward and is going to be good for the group and we are going to find a way to get it together to succeed, you do those things. It was an open communication in an effort by everybody."

Clearly, it was the right decision as the Americans became a united front during their time in Providence. Team USA beat Russia, Canada and Slovakia in pool play by a combined score of 19-8 to earn the top seed in the North American pool. A second defeat of Russia in the semifinals put Team USA on a crash course against the Canadians in the three-game final.

The Americans lost the first game, in overtime, at the brand-new Wachovia Center and things looked bleak as the team flew to Montreal to finish the series in front of an amazingly hostile crowd at the Bell Centre.
"What I thought was interesting, was his ability -- we had a lot of strong personalities on that team, from Brett Hull to (Jeremy) Roenick, to (Chris) Chelios -- to listen to the players on different scheduled things. I think he realized that he had a group of guys that wanted to win and wanted to compete and if they wanted to do a few things differently, it was OK -- as long as his basic outline was followed. He had the right players he wanted and he just wanted to make sure we went about business the right way." -- Brian Leetch
But it was then that the character of the American team Lamoriello had assembled was able to shine, with an assist to an emotional speech the usual reserved Lamoriello gave his charges.

"I just think the speech he gave wasn't contrived at all, he just spoke about the sacrifice and how we were all giving up our summers," goalie Mike richer, the tournament MVP, told NHL.com. "But, at the same time, we had such a tremendous responsibility to the people of the United States. He told us what a great opportunity we had and the pride that we all have to have in representing the entire country.

"That it's not a burden but a tremendous honor bestowed on all of us and it was appropriate. At that moment it captured everyone's attention and gave us just enough to begin the journey. I'm a firm believer that no one speech will ever change you, but it could have an impact -- and Lou's did."

The Americans won the second game, 5-2, to force a deciding game. In that game, the Canadians were nursing a 2-1 lead in the third before Hull tied the game at 2-2. Forty-three seconds later, with less than three minutes left in regulation, Tony Amonte scored the game-winner before Team USA added two empty-net goals for the 5-2 score.

In the madcap moments afterward, Lamoriello remembers an almost surreal feeling.

"I remember right after, we had a team meal and got the families involved and everybody hadn't really felt we won anything yet," Lamoriello said. "It was just everybody feeling good about each other. It was a group of guys -- and it's interesting that two of them will be there a week from Monday, Brett Hull and Brian Leetch -- and I can give you all the lines that we had and the people that were around.

"It was just a pleasure to be around them. There was a commitment from each and every one of them and nobody questioned anything because there was a focus to winning."



Quote of the Day

I remember the first time at Wrigley Field all of us had the long johns, the turtlenecks and the extra equipment because we were afraid of being cold. Halfway through the first period everybody's ripping everything off and we just ended up wearing what we would normally wear for a game at the United Center.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp on the 2009 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic