"It was the pinnacle of my career -- being able to win that game in Montreal in Canada's backyard with all the hype surrounding that tournament. It was really an unbelievable experience. I watched the Canada Cup a few years before and I dreamt about playing in it so it was great to be on a team with all those guys." -- Tony Amonte
It was Game 3 of the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and there was Amonte skating and scraping as he normally did for Team USA against favored Team Canada. The Americans were trailing by a goal with less than five minutes remaining in the third period. Heck, the champagne was practically on ice in the Canadian dressing room.
Suddenly, Brett Hull scores the equalizer for Team USA off a tip with 3:18 left before Amonte puts his stamp on the best-of-3 series just 43 seconds later.
"I can recollect it like it was yesterday," Amonte told NHL.com. "I was playing on a line with Bryan Smolinski and John LeClair and it just seemed like we were getting a ton of offensive chances the whole game. We were really creating a lot of stuff and I think it just came off a forecheck. The puck went back to Derian Hatcher and I was kind of skating through the slot when the puck hit something down there -- I just wasn't sure if it was stick or skate. But, who cares? It ended up in the net and gave us the lead."
Amonte jumped, knees-first, into the arms of Hatcher following his decisive tally before being surrounded by every other American on the ice.
"When I look back on it, it was probably some of the greatest hockey I've ever been a part of," said Amonte's American teammate, Doug Weight. "That was quite a feat winning the last two games in Montreal. Obviously, Tony got the GW and I remember getting a great picture with him after that game -- a shot I'll treasure forever. Man what a feeling."
The Americans would score two more to win 5-2 and capture their first world hockey title since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
"It was the pinnacle of my career -- being able to win that game in Montreal in Canada's backyard with all the hype surrounding that tournament," Amonte said. "It was really an unbelievable experience. I watched the Canada Cup a few years before and I dreamt about playing in it so it was great to be on a team with all those guys. Every one of them was a superstar it seemed like so it was nice to be a part of it and chip in."
"To see that goal go in," admitted LeClair, "was the best feeling in the world."
It was a goal that took Amonte's career to the next level.
"They had the champagne on ice and we shocked them," he said. "That third game was the most memorable of my career. The atmosphere walking to the Molson Center was incredible. People were driving real close to us and taunting us. There was so much animosity, but those same fans were pretty gracious afterwards -- something else I'll always remember. But I honestly can say that game took my career to a different level."
Amonte would again come close for Team USA during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. There, he and his teammates would win silver under the tutelage of legendary coach Herb Brooks.
"I still remember watching the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' in my house with my father and my brother and I remember thinking we had just won the Cup after beating Russia," said Amonte, who was 10 at the time. "After that game, me and my brother went down into the basement and began shooting pucks at each other and stick-handling and doing the same things the players were doing."
Amonte feels the Canadians exacted their revenge for that '96 World Cup loss by defeating the Americans in the gold-medal game on American soil in 2002.
"It must have been like payback for them," Amonte said. "The American-Canadian rivalry was strong then and it's strong now. It's just too bad I won't have a chance to play in Vancouver -- man that's going to be fun for those guys."
When asked his opinion on whether or not the NHL should continue to allow its players to compete in the Olympics following 2010, Amonte said he wants to see the best.
"I think the Olympics are supposed to include the best players in the world," Amonte said. "That's the way I think of the Olympics, wherever they may be. Now, whether that means professional players or amateurs, it doesn't matter. It would definitely be a different tournament for the Europeans if they went back to amateur status for the Games. Who knows what would happen then."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com