While the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team is absolutely legendary for the Miracle on Ice, the group that won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 is considered by many to be the best team America has ever assembled.
As a result, the entire squad is being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2016.
“I heard about it the day it was announced on a notification on my phone. I was thrilled,” said Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin, who represented Team USA at the tournament. “I guess I never really thought of the entire team being inducted but I was really excited.
“That team, being part of that team, is one of the highlights of my life. The guys on that team, I hold in such high regard. I consider them all really good friends.”
The tournament victory was especially notable considering who Team USA beat and where they did it: their rival Canada, in Canada, before an intense crowd at Montreal’s Molson Centre.
After defeating Canada 5-3 to open the tournament, the United States swept round-robin play before beating Russia, 5-2, in the semifinals. In the best-of-three championship series against Canada, the U.S. dropped the opener in overtime, 4-3, in Philadelphia before winning a memorable pair of 5-2 victories in Montreal to secure the country’s greatest tournament victory since that win over the Soviet Union in 1980.
“Just understanding and kind of realizing that we had accomplished something great and something unusual,” Guerin said when asked what he remembered most about the tournament. “I think the fact that we did it in Canada and in hostile territory, it was very, very gratifying.”
For most teams, going up against an absolutely loaded Canadian squad that included Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey, Joe Sakic, Martin Brodeur – the list of world-class talent literally goes on and on – would be intimidating. Not for Team USA, who truly believed in their ability and had the attitude to go along with it.
“We had incredible swagger because I think we were extremely talented,” Guerin said with a smile. “We had a lot of real good hockey players, but we also had a little edge to us and it was just a lot of fun to be around every single one of those guys. I think when we put it all together, it was just a really great experience.”
Guerin also represented Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey in 2004, which was the only other time the tournament was held. The NHL decided to bring it back this year, with a third edition scheduled for September.
When it comes to describing what the World Cup is like for people who may not have experienced one, especially compared to the Olympics, Guerin had the perfect phrase.
“It’s Olympic hockey on crack,” Guerin said with a laugh. “I’ve been a part of two of them and the fact that it’s played here on the smaller rinks with mostly NHL players, it’s very, very intense and very emotional. I think there’s almost even more bragging rights. Olympic hockey is great. This is a totally different brand of hockey. I think if you’re the slightest of a hockey fan, this is a tournament you wouldn’t want to miss.”
Fortunately, local fans won’t have to worry about missing out on the action as Pittsburgh was selected as one of a chosen few cities by the NHL and NHLPA to host practices and exhibition games for the World Cup.
The games will feature a double header of Canada-Russia at 7:30 p.m. and North American Czech Republic at 3:30 p.m. at CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday, Sept. 14.
That means fans will get a chance to see league superstars like Steven Stamkos, Jamie Benn, Carey Price, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Vladimir Tarasenko (and many more); Pittsburgh kids J.T. Miller, Brandon Saad and John Gibson; and of course, the talents they get a chance to see night in and night out in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Murray.
“I think we’re extremely lucky to have games here,” Guerin said. “This is not summer hockey. This gets serious very quickly and the intensity level is incredible. I think it’s a great opportunity for fans to come out and see not just Canada and Russia because they’re loaded with stars, but to come out and see the young guns because some of the marquee NHL players are on those teams. This going to be great hockey. We’re lucky to have some games here.”
The World Cup of Hockey will be held in Toronto with eight teams competing for the international hockey championships – Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Europe, North America (players aged 23 and younger from Canada and U.S.), Russia, Sweden and the United States. Preliminary Round action begins Sept. 17.