Twenty years after one of the greatest victories in United States hockey history, Brian Leetch understands the historic importance of the 1996 World Cup victory.
That team, which defeated Canada in the best-of-3 final, will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame this year.
Also included in the Class of 2016 are retired NHL forward Craig Janney and longtime high school hockey coach Bill Belisle.
But it's the 1996 World Cup team, which already has 15 players, general manager Lou Lamoriello and assistant coach John Cunniff enshrined individually, that has earned a place in the pantheon of American hockey.
"It's been nice with the [World Cup of Hockey 2016] coming up now and the attention going back to the '96 team and listening to some of the current U.S. players, Patrick Kane and Zach Parise and some of these U.S. star players in the NHL talk about seeing some of those games," Leetch said Tuesday. "It reminds myself and guys that played on that team of our feelings watching the 1980 [U.S. Olympic] team.
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"To hear our '96 team talked a little about that with current NHL guys, it's a nice feeling. For us, it was something we're definitely proud of."
The U.S. had lost the first game at CoreStates Center (now Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia, 4-3 in overtime. But in Game 2, the U.S. won 5-2 at Molson Centre (now Bell Centre), setting up a winner-take-all final game.
Canada took a 2-1 lead with 7:10 left in the third period of Game 3 on a goal by Adam Foote, but with 3:18 remaining, Brett Hull redirected a shot by Leetch past goalie Curtis Joseph to tie game for the U.S., and 43 seconds later, Tony Amonte chipped the rebound of a Derian Hatcher shot past Joseph for the game-winning goal.
Hatcher and Adam Deadmarsh also scored before time expired to give the U.S. a 5-2 win.
"We had prepared ourselves to be in that position," said Ron Wilson, the coach of that U.S. team. "I had said to the team I could see us getting to Game 3 of the finals in Canada, and the score would be tied 2-2 in the last minute or so, and somebody on our team would be the hero. I didn't think we'd be the hero three times over."
Leetch said the key to winning was goaltender Mike Richter allowing the U.S. to come through the second period allowing one goal despite Canada putting 22 shots on goal. Their only goal of the second was scored by Eric Lindros, with five seconds left in the period during a 5-on-3 power play to tie the game 1-1.
"There was always the belief," Leetch said. "When the puck goes in, you're excited. But in four minutes, to turn a one-goal deficit into a 5-2 win, that was surprising. It all happened so fast. To get one goal to tie it up, there was plenty of belief on that bench."
Janney was a long-time believer in Leetch. Growing up in Connecticut, they had numerous head-to-head battles.
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"We've known each other since we were 9 years old from youth hockey," Janney said. "His program in Chester, Conn., and my program in Enfield, Conn., were two of the top programs in youth hockey, and we met up in every state tournament from when we were 9 years old until we got to high school, and in high school we met in the quarterfinals and Brian's team beat our high school and knocked us off and we had a record streak of 50 wins in a row. We've known each other our whole lives and competed against each other, but even back then became friends."
As they got older, Janney and Leetch played together on regional all-star teams, for one season at Boston College and on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. Janney went on to play 12 NHL seasons with the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. He had 751 points (188 goals, 563 assists) in 760 games; his 0.99 points per game are fourth-most among U.S.-born players and his 0.74 assists per game are first.
Janney played with elite scorers during his career, among them Cam Neely, Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan and Keith Tkachuk, who scored at least 40 goals a combined 10 times with Janney as a teammate.
"My thought process when I was playing with guys of that caliber of goal scorer, if you can make them have three or four quality chances a game in the place where they like to get the puck, they're going to score one or two goals," Janney said. "I went into every game thinking of that. Usually if I did that on the power play or somewhere else, get it into their comfortable spots, they're going to score some goals and we're going to win hockey games."
Belisle, 86, has been the coach at Mount St. Charles Academy in Woonsocket, R.I., since 1975. He has won 32 state titles, including 26 in a row from 1978-2003, and helped guide a number of players to the League, among them goaltender Brian Boucher, defenseman Keith Carney, Islanders general manager Garth Snow and forward Brian Lawton, the first U.S.-born player to be selected with the No. 1 pick of the NHL draft in 1983.
"Bill was a tremendous coach and mentor for me throughout my time at Mount St. Charles," Snow said. "He has built the ice hockey program into a national powerhouse spanning over 40 years. The individual and team milestones he's accomplished throughout his time are unbelievable and speak to his leadership abilities. I'm thrilled for Bill and his family to receive this recognition."
Belisle said his proudest moment was one he got to share in 2012 with two generations of his family.
"When we won the championship with my son [David Belisle] as an assistant coach and my grandson [Brian Belisle] as captain of our team," Bill said. "That was a great moment I'll never forget in my life. That was a real honor for me to be on the bench with my family."
Video: Bill Belisle joins NHL Tonight to talk US HHOF