Published November 20, 2014
While the three players that will be inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame this fall credited the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's gold medal win in Lake Placid as the impetus for their hockey careers, today's generation looks to them for their golden victory as their inspiration.
Chris Chelios, Gary Suter and Keith Tkachuk all played major roles in the U.S. winning the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, and will join Philadelphia Flyers founder and owner Ed Snider and long-time hockey broadcaster Mike "Doc" Emrick when the Class of 2011 is enshrined in Chicago in the fall.
That memorable tournament featured the U.S. and Canada battling in a best-of-3 series that at the time featured the best hockey had to offer.
Game 1 saw Steve Yzerman score in overtime to give Canada a 4-3 victory at the just-opened CoreStates Center (now the Wells Fargo Center) in Philadelphia, a building Snider financed himself as a new home for his Flyers to replace the Spectrum.
"They were in a brand new arena that was being opened in Philadelphia," Emrick said. "It had an enormous locker room, a huge Jacuzzi. I think it was big enough that a couple guys could do synchronized swimming, because I believed they tried it during training camp."
While the first-game loss was tough, the U.S. squad refused to wilt. The team went into Montreal and won a pair of games by identical 5-2 scores to stun the home fans. Game 3 featured a goaltending clinic by Mike Richter, who held the fort as the U.S. rallied from a 2-1 third-period deficit for the victory.
Tkachuk finished third on the team with 5 goals, while Chelios and Suter combined for 6 assists and shut-down defense.
"The 1996 World Cup probably was the best team I've ever played on," said Tkachuk, who also played on four Olympic teams. "What an experience it was, to be down in a best-of-3 series, go up to Montreal and putting USA back on the map."
Not only did Tkachuk play well in the tournament, he turned out to be a strong recruiter.
Chelios had no intention of playing in the tournament so he could get his body rested, recovered from injury and ready for the 1996-97 season. However, enough phone calls from players heading to the tournament convinced him he should suit up.
"I was a last-minute addition to the World Cup team," Chelios said. "Thank God the guys did talk me into coming. … If it wasn't for Gary and Keith calling me during those (pre-tournament) exhibition games, I probably wouldn't have come. The memory is always going to be there, and doing it with Gary and Keith and all those guys -- by far one of the best experiences of my U.S. career."
Emrick broadcast all three games, and said what stood out to him was the near-immediate camaraderie the U.S. players seemed to develop.
"The thing that struck me … was you had a lot of guys that played against one another and battled one another and I know we always are marveling at this, but we couldn't get over how much they liked one another," Emrick said.
"They went to a baseball game at Fenway Park together and seemed to have a great time. On off nights they would watch the telecasts of the other games together. I don't know who was the guy that generated the fabric of this, but that was a together team that wasn't going to buckle on anything. And when they lost the overtime game in Philadelphia, a lot of the hockey world wasn't too surprised. But when they went into Montreal -- that was the lair of Canadian hockey, and you just expected they could put their lineup out there and scare everybody, and they sure didn't."
Emrick said the legacy of that 1996 U.S. World Cup team clearly could be seen in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as the U.S. battled Canada to overtime in the gold-medal game.
"One thing is as these guys have mentioned the influence of the 1980 team on them, the '96 team has had influence on subsequent players, including those that went to the Olympics in 2010," Emrick said.
During his opening statement, Tkachuk thanked the 1980 U.S. team for making him want to be a hockey player. Later, he said he hoped the 1996 U.S. World Cup team did the same for the next generation of American hockey players.
"I hope this 1996 World Cup team, it attracted more kids to play hockey," he said. "Our jobs are not done right now. I feel like I owe USA Hockey and the game of hockey to get more kids involved."
Maybe the next Keith Tkachuk.