This is perhaps the greatest collection of players ever to compete against each other. I had the pleasure of stumbling across the NHL Network showing all 3 games of the final round in succession last night. Wow was that great hockey! As I watched the game I kept thinking how exciting the series was live and how great it was to re-watch the games knowing how great most of the players became as their NHL careers winded down. Most of the players had incredible careers and I cannot remember a time when so many greats were on the ice together and played like they wanted to win.
We were treated to watch Cujo (Curtis Joseph) and Mike Richter, both in their most dominant prime make big save after big save. The scary thing is that a young Martin Brodeur was sitting behind Cujo on the Canadian bench.
The defensive core of each team was scary good. The Canadiens had the luxury of the following players on the blue line; Rob Blake, Paul Coffey, Eric Desjardins, Adam Foote, Scott Neidermeyer, and Scott Stevens. That is a deep group of players and the top 6 all had amazing careers. The really exciting part was all 6 of these guys were in their prime during this competition. The USA had Chris Chelios, Darian Hatcher, Kevin Hatcher, Phil Housley, Brian Leetch, Mattieu Schnieder, and Gary Suter as their blue line. Again all of these guys were in their prime of the playing career in 1996.
Canada boasted the forwards: Rod Brind`Amour, Vincent Damphousse, Theo Fleury, Adam Graves, Wayne Gretzky, Claude Lemieux, Trevor Linden, Eric Lindros, Mark Messier, Keith Primeau, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Pat Verbeek, and Steve Yzerman. The lines had an amazing combination of speed, power, passing and shooting. Lindros was pre-concussions, Gretzky and Messier were still young enough to fly, Sakic, Graves, and Fleury were all major forces in the game. The really amazing thing about Canada was that this list was their entire roster. Not a weak spot on the team. The USA had a great forward group as well with John LeClair, Keith Tkachuk, Adam Deadmarsh, Bryan Smolinski, Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, Bill Guerin, Brett Hull, Joel Otto, Pat LaFontaine, and Mike Modano. While team USA was deep up front, they are clearly outclassed by the Canadian forwards.
The only 2 superstar players I can think of that were missing were Mario Lemieux who I believe was retired and Jeremy Roenick.
The USA won the finals series 2-1 winning Games 2 and 3. They won because Brett Hull and John LeClair were scoring all over the ice and were dominant on 2 lines for the USA. And the main reason they won was because Mike Richter was absolutely amazing! His play against Canada was as hot, if not hotter, than any goalie before or since. Jim Craig played great for a game versus the USSR and Domick Hasek stole a gold medal with a couple of great games. But Richter played the best players in Canada for 3 games and they peppered him with amazing plays and he just stopped every puck that was on goal.
If you have not seen these 3 games, look for the replay on NHL Network they are most definitely worth the watch! It is rare to see so many spectacular players on the ice at once. By my quick count I see maybe 20 (hard to say since some are just now out of the game) Hockey Hall of Fame players on the ice in this tournament.
Good Night and Good Hockey!
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