World Cup 2004
If you're looking for one word to describe the 1996 World Cup of Hockey tournament, that's the one that best describes the tourney in which the hockey world's elite players went nose-to-nose for global bragging rights.
Well, hockey fans, it won't be long now. In roughly a year's time, the second World Cup will be up for grabs in what is sure to be another tournament chock full of great players and great plays.
Eight teams will vie for the 2004 World Cup, which will be played at sites across North America and Europe between Aug. 30, 2004 and Sept. 14, 2004.
The United States, the defending champion of the 1996 tournament and 2002 Olympic silver medalist, will be joined by 2002 Olympic gold medal-winner Canada, Russia and defending World Champion Slovakia in the North American pool. The Czech Republic, winners of the 1998 Olympic gold medal, Finland, Germany and Sweden will compete in the European pool.
The first World Cup of Hockey was a huge success. NHL fans got to see some great summer hockey that included players from all over the League and globe representing their respective countries. The World Cup was born of a rich tradition of international hockey competition that has included the 1972 Summit Series, the Challenge Cup in 1979, Rendez-Vous '87, and a series of Canada Cup Tournaments, last played in 1991.
In the '96 World Cup, the U.S. defeated Canada, 2-1, in a thrilling three-game final series, which featured one game in Philadelphia and two in Montreal.
Before those two teams got to the championship round, they had to hurdle some tough global battles in the opening rounds. Canada opened up the World Cup against Russia on Aug. 29 in Vancouver. The two teams played a nail biter that saw the Canadians take a 3-1 lead after the first period, only to see the Russians roar back and tie the contest with two tallies in the second. Colorado's Joe Sakic broke the deadlock 52 seconds into the final session and Theo Fleury finished off the scoring to give Canada the hard-fought 5-3 victory.
The United States, which turned out to be the only undefeated team in the North American Pool, opened up against Canada and edged their Northern neighbors, 5-3, in Philadelphia. The Americans opened the scoring when John LeClair beat Martin Brodeur off a feed from Tony Amonte and Bryan Smolinski. Canada roared back to take a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the first when Wayne Gretzky scored on the power play at 9:53 and Mark Messier followed up his teammate with a tally at 18:38.
But the U.S. came out storming in the second and got goals from Doug Weight and Scott Young to give them a 3-2 edge going into the third. In the third, Brett Hull stepped up and potted two more goals for the U.S. en route to their 5-3 victory. Gretzky scored the final goal for Canada in the game and Hull finished as the contest's top scorer with two goals and two assists.
The U.S. won its next two games in convincing fashion, beating Russia 5-2 and routing Slovakia 9-3. With their unblemished record in the North American pool, the Americans earned a bye to the third round. The teams with the next best records in their pools, advanced to the second round.
While Canada finished second in the North American Pool, the team didn't have such an easy time advancing. The Canadians survived a close call, as they were nearly eliminated by a winless Slovakia squad on Sept. 1 in Ottawa. Slovakia took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but Fleury's second goal of the World Cup, followed by Steve Yzerman's first, got Canada the 3-2 win and a berth into the next round.
Russia finished the opening round of the World Cup with a 1-2 record, winning their only game against Slovakia 7-4 on Aug. 31 in Montreal.
Like the U.S., Sweden also ran the table in their pool, going 3-0 in the opening round. They began the tourney with a 6-1 bashing of Germany on Aug. 26 in Stockholm and followed that up with a 3-0 shutout of the Czech Republic on Aug. 29 in Prague. The Swedes closed out their first round run with a 5-2 win over Finland on Sept. 1 in Stockholm, earning a bye to round three.
Finland was the second-best team in the European pool, finishing Round 1 with a 2-1 record. The Finns beat the Czech Republic 7-3 on Aug. 27 and won their second game the next night 8-3 over Germany. Both games took place in Helsinki. Finland lost its only game in the round to Sweden.
Germany was the final team in the European pool to qualify for the second round. The Germans went 1-2 in the opening round, with their only win coming off a 7-1 rout of the Czech Republic, who went winless in the tournament, on Aug. 31.
The first quarterfinal game matched Canada against Germany in Montreal. What looked like a blowout on paper with the Canadians outshooting the Germans, 43-16, and winning by a 4-1 margin, was actually a nip-and-tuck affair. Germany kept the game close all the way until Trevor Linden scored a fluke goal with just over three minutes left in the second period to give Canada a 3-1 lead. Rod Brind'Amour finished off the scoring for Canada 3:05 into the third.