In the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, which succeeded the old Canada Cup in 1996, the Americans pulled off another shocker in a competition played with professional rosters. The U.S. rolled through the round-robin with victories over Russia, Canada and Slovakia, then beat the Russians again in the semifinals to set up a rematch with the Canadians.
The best of three final went the distance, with the U.S. rallying after losing the first game and again after falling behind 2-1 in the decisive third game, erupting late in the third to take a 5-2 win in Montreal and claim arguably the second most important gold medal USA hockey has ever earned.
Now, 16 years after that dramatic victory, two of the principal figures of that team have been reunited again in a celebration of American hockey. Lou Lamoriello, the architect of that 1996 team, as well as a few pretty good New Jersey squads, and Mike Modano, a key center for that squad and the highest-scoring American-born player in NHL history, were both elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame on Wednesday. They will be inducted into the Hall this fall, along with fellow Class of 2012 member Eddie Olczyk.
Lamoriello and Modano each have resumes more than impressive enough to have earned such an honor even without that memorable late-summer tournament in 1996. But when it comes to the impact on American hockey, that two-week stretch stands alone as a seminal moment of the last generation.
That was arguably American hockey's greatest generation, at least in terms of impact in the NHL, and has helped immeasurably to inspire the next generation of American players who are reaching the NHL in ever-growing numbers.
Lamoriello, who served as general manager of the 1996 squad, assembled an impressive array of talent. There was Mike Richter in goal at the height of his powers just two years after leading the Rangers to their long-awaited Stanley Cup. On defense stood the towering Hatcher brothers, Derian and Kevin, longtime stalwart Chris Chelios, plus offensive wizards Brian Leetch and Phil Housley.
And like the 1980 team before it, there was naturally a Suter involved. This time it was Gary on the blue line after his brother Bob was part of the historic victory in Lake Placid. The Canadians may have their more numerous Sutter brothers, but the Americans have the Suters, who have one less T but a heck of a lot more gold.
And then there were the forwards, with Modano front and center with the likes of Brett Hull, Bill Guerin, John LeClair, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Pat LaFontaine.
It was maybe the greatest collection of American hockey talent ever assembled, and the U.S. needed every bit of it against a Canadian club comprised of the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Eric Lindros, Paul Coffey, Martin Brodeur, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.
Lamoriello knew those last three well. They were key figures in all three of the Devils Stanley Cup championships in 1995, 2000 and 2003. Lamoriello has also led New Jersey to two other Final appearances, including this past year, while Modano had his name engraved on the Cup with the Stars in 1999.
But when it comes to American hockey victories, none meant more than that 1996 World Cup triumph. And after playing key roles in that historic moment, it's only fitting that Lamoriello and Modano will be together again in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Photo via Facebook/Mike Modano