Call it a premonition, but on the morning of the final game of the 1996 World Cup, American head coach Ron Wilson boldly approached one of his players and said “You’re going to be our Paul Henderson.”
That player was Hingham, Massachusetts’ very own Tony Amonte. The Chicago Blackhawks sniper replied jokingly.
“Who the hell is Paul Henderson?”
“Sure I had hear of Paul Henderson,” said Amonte when recollecting on the incident. “But Ron said ‘Let me put it in your terms. You’re going to be our Mike Eruzione. You both went to Boston University. You’re both Italian. You’re both not the best looking guy in the world. But you’re going to do something special for us.’”
Something special is an understatement!
Eruzione of course is forever etched in American hockey history as it was his goal that knocked off the mighty Soviets in the Lake Placid 1980 Olympics – better known as the Miracle on Ice. So for the Team USA coach to tell one of his players that he expected him to achieve that sort of greatness on the eve of the most important game in American hockey history since those Olympics was quite a gamble.
But it paid off.
In the final game of the World Cup, Canada had the United States on the brink of elimination. Canada dominated the first two periods, clearly outplaying their southern neighbors. Yet thanks to a Yankee Doodle Dandy in net named Mike Richter, the score remained deadlocked at 1 after 40 minutes of play.
12:50 into the third frame Canada finally solved the Richter and took a slim 2-1 lead. But the Americans seemed to be getting stronger. It was as if the Canadians were tiring after a furious first two periods. Now the Americans would make their move.
Brett Hull managed to tie it up at 16:42. The goal deflated the Canadians greatly. Canada perhaps was thinking about just clamping down and taking into an overtime period. That was a great mistake.
At the same time Ron Wilson must have thought about his earlier premonition. On the very next shift following the Hull goal, Wilson put out his appointed hero Amonte on the ice. The move paid off and Wilson’s foresight was proven correct. Big defenseman Derian Hatcher unloaded a heavy shot on goal and Amonte deflected it past a stunned Curtis Joseph. The Americans added a couple of late goals, but it was Amonte who came through.
On that night Amonte was indeed the American version of Paul Henderson. But did anyone notice? Henderson’s dramatics are considered by many as one of Canada’s top 5 greatest achievements in any circle, not just sports. But the American World Cup victory was barely even covered at the time, and there seemingly is no legacy just a few short years later.
There was no United States television coverage of the games. Plus the tournament took part in September where it competed against two of the USA’s biggest pro sports – Major League Baseball and their pennant drive is on while the National Football League season is hitting full stride. Plus the tremendously popular college sport scene is getting under way. Essentially the World Cup of Hockey was back page news in America.
Case in point: Sports Illustrated, the United States’ best known national sports magazine, only had a short article on the victory. On the cover of the esteemed magazine was a story about Ron Powlus and his quest to become a Notre Dame football legend.
Ever heard of Ron Powlus? Chances are if you’re American you’ve heard of him more often than Tony Amonte.