John LeClair was quite literally on the ice, not to mention underneath Paul Coffey, when Tony Amonte scored the goal that changed the hockey rivalry between the United States and Canada.
It was in the third and deciding game of the inaugural World Cup of Hockey final in 1996, and came with just 2:35 left to play, a mere 43 seconds after Brett Hull had tied it 2-2 for the U.S.
The end result was a 5-2 loss in Montreal that left Canadians stunned, and the Americans celebrating a championship that heralded their arrival as a power in the sport.
The two forwards relived the glory of that moment Tuesday, when they were among those named for induction to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It definitely changed the rivalry,” LeClair said of the World Cup win. “I think we gained a lot of respect. I think they knew USA Hockey was good, but I don’t think they thought we were that good.
“There was a lot of friendly back and forth going on between everybody before we took off to go to our camps and start the tournament. But it took a couple of weeks for everybody to calm down after it was done. That was one of the most intense three-game series I’ve ever played – it was amazing.”
Goaltender Tom Barrasso, the 1998 gold-medal women’s Olympic team and the late Frank Zamboni, creator of the ice resurfacing machines that still bear his name, were also named for induction to the U.S. hockey hall in Eveleth, Minn., on Tuesday.
Canada won the first game of the ’96 World Cup final series 4-3 on Steve Yzerman’s overtime goal in Philadelphia. The series then shifted to Montreal where, “it didn’t look good, they had the champagne on ice there, they were ready to rock and roll,” Amonte recalled.
Instead, the Americans won the second game 5-2 to force the deciding contest, which Canada led 2-1 until Hull and Amonte, who shovelled a rebound past Curtis Joseph, struck in quick succession. Two more goals put it away.
“The third game was the most memorable of my career, unfortunately I never got to win a Stanley Cup, and it was just unbelievable, the atmosphere, the animosity out there,” said Amonte, who also played in the Salt Lake City Olympics, when Canada beat the U.S. 5-2 in the gold-medal game.
“That victory on their home soil, it definitely hurt them, that’s for sure. Just like it hurt us in 2002 to lose in Utah. I didn’t even want to walk out of the locker-room after the game, you know what I mean? You’re on your own soil, you’re expected to win, you’re having a great tournament, you make it to the final – and I’m sure that’s the way they felt. So it was payback in 2002.”
Amonte, who played in 1,174 games over 15 years in the NHL, recorded 416 goals and 484 assists. The goal against Canada was his biggest and helped set him on a path to stardom with the Rangers, Chicago, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Calgary.
“It definitely took my career to a different level,” Amonte said of the experience. “We were walking to the rink before Game 3 and I remember people driving their car real slow next to you, taunting you the whole way down the street.
“It was just an amazing, amazing time.”
LeClair was the first American-born player to record three consecutive 50-goal seasons in the NHL and finished his career with 406 goals and 413 assists in 967 games with Montreal, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
He paid tribute to the ’98 women’s hockey team, which beat Canada 3-1 in the gold-medal game at the Nagano Olympics. That was another victory that turned up a U.S.-Canada rivalry, as the Americans arrived in Japan as the clear underdogs.
“I played for 16 years on the U.S. team and that was the one team that I look back on and look at the way we were unified,” said captain Cammi Granato. “There was something incredibly, incredibly special about that team and the way we came together at the right time.”
Barrasso won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and ’92, and won 369 games in the regular season plus 61 more in the playoffs.
He’s the only goalie to move straight from high school to the NHL.
“I look back on it now and in honesty I don’t have the slightest idea how it was possible to have that season as someone who has never played at that kind of level previous,” said Barrasso. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my career.”
Zamboni, who originally owned a plant for manufacturing block ice, patented the world’s first self-propelled ice resurfacing machine in 1949.
They have since become standard at rinks around the world.
“He was somebody who didn’t get past the ninth grade, born in Utah, and just had a knack for envisioning things and what could be done,” Richard Zamboni said of his father. “He really wanted to make the best ice he could.”