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U.S. ended Canada's dominance at '96 World Cup

by Staff Writer / New Jersey Devils

Sixteen years after the "Miracle on Ice" United States team shocked the Soviet Union at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, a group of players spawned by the greatest upset in hockey history did something similar to Canada at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

The successor to the Canada Cup tournament was an eight-team event, the first best-on-best competition in five years.

The United States and Canada joined Russia and Slovakia in a North American pool, with games in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver. Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Germany formed the European pool, which played games in Helsinki, Stockholm, Prague and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. The top three teams in each group advanced to the quarterfinals, which were played in North America.

The United States and Sweden each swept its group, with the U.S. defeating Canada and Russia in back-to-back games to earn a bye into the semifinals.

Russia (5-0 against Finland) and Canada (4-1 against Germany) each easily won its quarterfinal game. The United States then had a second straight 5-2 victory against Russia on Sept. 8, one night after Canada won the first semifinal by defeating Sweden 3-2 in double overtime on a goal by Theo Fleury.

Canada had dominated the United States for 20 years, going 12-0-2 during that span and sweeping the two-game final of the Canada Cup in 1991, before the U.S. won their preliminary-round game. It looked like Canada's dominance would resume in the first game of the best-of-3 final at CoreStates Center (now Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia on Sept. 10 when Fleury scored midway through the third period to break a 2-2 tie.

But with U.S. goaltender Mike Richter on the bench for an extra attacker, John LeClair of the Philadelphia Flyers knocked in a rebound with 6.3 seconds remaining to tie the game. Canada dominated overtime, and Steve Yzerman's bad-angle shot from the left circle at 10:37 got past Richter to give Canada a 4-3 win and two chances to win the tournament at home.

Instead, the United States spoiled the anticipated celebration two nights later in front of a packed Molson Centre (now Bell Centre) in Montreal. Two goals by LeClair and one by Brett Hull gave the United States a 3-1 lead in the second period. Joe Sakic scored for Canada with 5:12 remaining in the third, but empty-net goals by Keith Tkachuk and Scott Young wrapped up a 5-2 U.S. victory and forced the series to a third game.

Though the United States was technically the home team for Game 3, Canada had the full house in Montreal on its side; U.S. coach Ron Wilson called the Molson Centre "the lion's den." Riding the energy of the crowd and the return of New York Rangers center Mark Messier, who missed Game 2 with the flu, Canada dominated play, outshooting the United States 37-24. But the play of Richter kept the game tied 1-1 through two periods.

Canada took a 2-1 lead when defenseman Adam Foote's seeing-eye wrist shot from the right point floated past Richter's left shoulder at 12:50 of the third period. The United States tied it 2-2 when Hull's midair deflection of Brian Leetch's left-point shot with 3:18 remaining sailed past goaltender Curtis Joseph. The goal was allowed after a video review.

The tie lasted for 43 seconds; Tony Amonte knocked the rebound of Derian Hatcher's shot past Joseph to give the United States a 3-2 lead.

"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," Amonte told NHL.com in 2009. "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."

Canada's Wayne Gretzky had a chance to tie the game shortly after Amonte's goal, but a pass from Paul Coffey jumped over his stick. With Joseph on the bench for a sixth attacker, Hatcher and Adam Deadmarsh each scored into the empty net to complete a 5-2 victory and give the United States the second-biggest hockey victory in its history.

Richter, who helped the Rangers win the Stanley Cup two years earlier, was named the most valuable player.

''Our hats are off to the Americans," Messier said. "We don't have anything to be ashamed about. We had a great team. We played a great team.''

Unlike the win against the Soviets 16 years earlier, this one was not a miracle; rather, it was an indication of how the seeds planted by the 1980 team had sprouted.

"The 1980 team is on a pedestal and it obviously sparked a whole generation of U.S. hockey players, a great generation of hockey players," forward Bill Guerin told NHL.com in 2013. "USA Hockey saw that and started getting more and more involved in developing the program. It didn't happen overnight, but we got better and better and better."

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