On Sept. 14, 1996, the United States defeated Canada in the third and deciding game of inaugural World Cup of Hockey at Molson Centre in Montreal. Like the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team was an influence on the members of '96 U.S. World Cup team, the 2011 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductees -- all connected to that team from 15 years ago -- played a huge part in continuing the growth of American hockey.
The 2011 inductees announced today are NBC broadcaster Mike Emrick, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and former NHLers Chris Chelios(notes), Gary Suter, and Keith Tkachuk(notes). Emrick is the first media member to be inducted. A formal ceremony will be held this fall in Chicago.
Chelios and Suter manned the U.S. blueline, while Tkachuk potted five goals during '96 tournament. Snider hosted the preliminary round matchup, as well as Game 1 of the championships series between the USA and Canada in 1996 at the Flyers' home at the then-CoreStates Center. Emrick was, of course, behind the mic calling the Americans road to victory.
If you ask any of the great American-born players of the 1980s and '90s, they'll tell you what kind of impact the "Miracle on Ice" had on them as youngsters growing up playing hockey.
"Watching Mike Eruzione scored that goal and see what kind of effect it had on many kids my age coming up playing hockey around the U.S. was huge for me and I fell in love with it," said Tkachuk during a conference call Monday afternoon.
Ask today's generation of American players and they'll tell you how big of a role the U.S. win in '96 played in their hockey development.
By the time the '96 World Cup rolled around, more and more NHLers were American and the talent pool was growing in all levels of USA Hockey. That's why 'Doc' Emrick's call when time ran out in Game 3 against Canada was fitting.
"This is no 'Miracle'...":
Newsday New York's headline the next day was "USA over DNA", but since that day 15 years ago, the growth of the game in the U.S. has been huge. It may not match what can be found up north in Canada, but the game is spreading. Looking at the past few NHL Drafts and you'll see birthplaces in nontraditional hockey areas such as California, Florida and Texas.
And it's not just in the professional ranks. The number of USA Hockey registered participants in 1996 was 428,578. Today, the number is over 580,000.
Tkachuk acknowledged that there's still work to do continue building up the sport in the U.S. and that will happen with more and more success in American hockey. Silver medals at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics will help get more eyeballs and kids in the sport and this generation can pay it forward to future ones like the '80 and '96 teams did.
"I hope with this '96 World Cup team, that attracted more kids to play hockey," said Tkachuk."We gotta keep on growing. Our jobs are not done right now. We have to keep helping out."