Mike Richter: America’s World Cup Hero
As we prepare for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, let’s go back 20 years to the U.S. win in the first tournament.
In 1996, the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) put together the inaugural World Cup of Hockey. This tournament would take the place of the Canada Cup which ran from 1976-1991 and it would put the U.S. back on top of the hockey world for the first time since 1980.
THE FUED BEGINS
The feud between the U.S. and Canada hockey began in the 1991 Canada Cup tournament. America wasn’t considered to be good enough to contend, yet finished the round-robin play 4-1. The only loss came at the hands of Canada. In the best of 3 finals, Canada swept the U.S. 4-1 and 4-2 respectively. But bad blood began to brew in game one, when U.S. defenseman Gary Suter hit Wayne Gretzky from behind and knocked him out of the tournament.
The 1991 U.S. Team wasn’t ready for primetime because they had so many young players. Names like Chris Chelios, Brett Hull, Pat Lafontaine, Mike Modano, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter were all on that squad. They and many others got a taste and wanted more.
USA HOCKEY ARRIVES
Unlike the Miracle on Ice Team, the 1996 WC roster was not going to surprise anyone. They were ranked highly, second only to Canada. This squad was now older and wiser with Brian Leetch as it’s captain. Of course, Chelios and Suter were back with the towering Hatcher brothers. Up front, Hull and Lafontaine got some needed size and speed with Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, John Leclair and Tony Amonte.
The most important player though was goaltender Mike Richter. Till this day that Canadian team will tell you he was outrageous and impossible to beat. So much so that he was named the MVP of the tournament. Richter finished the WC with a 5-1 record, 2.89 GAA and a .923 save percentage but those numbers do no justice to the MVP’s incredible play.
The United States went 3-0 in round robin play, beating Canada 5-3 as well. Remember the bad blood? There was a brawl in the game that saw Keith Tkachuk flatten Claude Lemieux’s nose and pit Devils teammates against each other when Scott Stevens squared off with Bill Guerin. That game set the tone once they met in a best of 3 finals.
Game 1 was in Philadelphia and the U.S. would fall in OT on a Steve Yzerman goal. The U.S. was now faced with having to win twice in Montreal of all places. Enter the hero Mike Richter, who faced an onslaught of Canadian shots but made the big saves to allow the U.S. to win 5-2. The game was 3-2 with 5 minutes to go in the 3rd, so it was closer than the final score indicated.
One game for the right to be World Champs. Another game in front of a hostile crowd and a Canadian team boasting the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Eric Lindros. Yet, the hero was a goaltender from Flourtown, PA that would shine brightest.
Early in the 2nd period with the U.S. up one but under assault, Vincent Damphousse got by Leetch for a breakaway. What appeared to be about 5 dekes, Mike Richter contorted his body to reach back and stop what looked like a sure goal. USA needed that save and many more as Canada tied late on the PP and took a lead in the third.
The comeback started with a Brian Leetch shot that Brett Hull deflected behind his back in mid-air. Review: stick below the crossbar, good goal. Soon after, Tony Amonte off a big Curtis Joseph rebound, top shelf. Review: Canadian players and fans holding their breath, not off the skate, good goal. Empty netter followed by an Adam Deadmarsh blast, America bests Canada to reach the pinnacle of the hockey world, 5-2!
When it was all said and done Mike Richter remembered the save in Dan Rosen’s great article. “He deked five ways at once and I reached back and got it with my paddle,” Richter said. “I remember how tight the game was, with people on the edge of their seat, not an inch to give. So even while he’s making those moves you could feel the crowd going, ‘Oh, oh, there it is.’ It was one of those great moments that you never want to go away because here it all is for all the money. Had they scored that goal, momentum shifts.”
Here’s hoping for another American Hero to rise in 2016.
The SAVE can be seen at the 4 minute mark. The comeback starts at 10:11.