"It was one of my greatest moments and a tremendous feeling to go out and beat Canada two straight games in Canada. Up to that point, I had never really been a champion. I had a load of personal success, but never really had any team success." -- Brett Hull
Lou Lamoriello knew he had something special when the players for Team USA began training camp for the eight-team World Cup of Hockey in 1996.
"I can recall as clear as I'm sitting here talking to you today the commitment that those players made for that team," said the New Jersey Devils
' president and general manager, who served as GM for Team USA that season. "We took everyone to Providence College for training camp, and I can remember that first meeting and the talk was of one thing -- winning. Each and every one of those players paid the price, made sacrifices and was instrumental in leading our country to victory.
"I really benefited from the experience as well by being around the players who I had known in college."
Lamoriello was also grateful to have three of the game’s most admired performers on that team at each of the primary positions - forward Brett Hull
, defenseman Brian Leetch
and goalie Mike Richter
Leetch had 7 assists, Richter finished 5-1 with a 2.43 goals-against average and Hull registered a tournament-best 7 goals and 11 points to help lead the American squad to its first world title since the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The trio will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Friday, alongside Cammi Granato, during a ceremony at the Magness Arena on the campus of the University of Denver.
Leetch, a three-time Olympian and 11-time NHL All-Star, was captain of that '96 World Cup team.
"When we got to the locker room, everyone was just really happy to be back together, but when you went out to practice and saw the skill level out there, you were doing all you could to keep up with the next guy," Leetch said. "The puck was moving from stick to stick so fast, there were hard shots and the goaltending was great. There was this feeling after the first few practices that we were ready to compete and had a chance to win this thing. We didn't feel as though we needed to have our goalie be the best player every single game and weren't looking to just one or two guys to score every single goal. We had enough strength, size and experience and a lot of guys in the prime of their careers; there was a lot of excitement."
Richter, a three-time Olympian and three-time NHL All-Star, was named tournament MVP. He made 35 saves, including 23 in the second period, in the series-clinching Game 3 against Canada.
"It was probably one of the most talented teams I've every been around," Richter said. "Everyone was in their prime and the practices were enjoyable and fun to watch and play in. It's hard to come from an NHL team that you know and have been cultivating for so many years and just plop into one of these situations and feel tight, but we all knew each other through USA Hockey. We got our legs pretty quickly after the exhibition season and were ready to go. Lou Lamoriello did an unbelievable job putting that team together because from the moment you walked into that training camp, you took it very seriously and expectations were incredibly high."
In the best-of-three final against Canada, the Americans dropped a 4-3 overtime decision in Game 1 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Team USA, coached by Ron Wilson, then recorded a pair of 5-2 victories in Montreal to win the series. In the third game, the U.S. team rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period. Tony Amonte
's tourney-winner came only 43 seconds after Hull had evened the score with his seventh of the competition.
Hull, a two-time Olympian and nine-time NHL All-Star, will never forget the '96 World Cup experience.
"It was one of my greatest moments and a tremendous feeling to go out and beat Canada two straight games in Canada," Hull said. "Up to that point, I had never really been a champion. I had a load of personal success, but never really had any team success and I still remember standing on the blue line next to Chris Chelios
after we had won and asking him what I should do -- he told me to just go with it. It brought to light what it was like to win as a team and be a part of a championship. But even if we didn't win, every time we got together to play, whether practice or in a game, it was so much fun. We had such a good group of guys and it's a wonderful part of my career that I will never forget because it also made me a better player."
"I think what impressed me most was the fact no one was worried about stats; they were all worried about winning for the next guy," Lamoriello said. "No one worried about how they were used or ice time; rather, what they could do to contribute in some way. To me, it was just gratifying to see the success they had and the way we won."
Leetch could also sense a strong bond in the dressing room.
"There were different groups of personalities in there, but everybody had that same feeling like this could be something special and to have it turn out that way was amazing." – Brian Leetch
"There were different groups of personalities in there, but everybody had that same feeling like this could be something special and to have it turn out that way was amazing," Leetch said.
On Oct. 5, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the League was actively looking to reinstate the World Cup of Hockey, which was last played in 2004 and won by Team Canada.
"We're in discussions about picking a year, starting it and going on a regular cycle so we can have World Cups every four years," Bettman said. "We think that works very well for us because it's out of the season and we can control what goes on around us."
"In my opinion, I think it will replace the Olympics in due time as far as participation by NHL players," Lamoriello said. "One reason I think there's a better chance of that succeeding is because it's out of season. I think in this day and age, with the competitiveness, it's very difficult to leave your NHL teams and go and play in the middle of the season. In saying all of that, exposure is very important, but I do feel the World Cup will be coming back."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.