Team USA didn't beat Canada in 1996. Mike Richter did.
That was a commonly heard sentiment among Canadians at the time. Maybe it was an excuse for the unthinkable loss to the southern neighbors. But at the same time, and more importantly, it was the ultimate compliment to the great goalie Abingdon Pennsylvania
By 1996 Mike Richter had solidified as an elite a goalie as there was in the National Hockey League. While never quite got to the status of Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek, few could dispute that Richter was already one of the all time superstars who would one day be a legend. The man with the Lady Liberty goalie mask possessed rapier-like reflexes that brought the crowd to its feet. His concentration was second to none, and his one on one ability, especially on clear cut breakaways, were otherworldly. There may have been no goalie in history who was better on breakaways. Just ask Pavel Bure, who was frustrated by Richter in the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. That was the year that Richter backstopped the Rangers to hockey's holy grail - the Stanley Cup.
The Americans came into the World Cup boasting as good a blueline that existed in the world at that time. They had their usual group of hardworking forwards, but also had a couple of skaters who could be classified as superstars, so offense wouldn't be a problem either. But, as always is the case in elite hockey, No matter how good your players are, your team will only go as far as your goalie will take you.
The Americans put the responsibility of achieving their destiny in the glove hand of Mike Richter.
Richter was in mid season form during the entire tournament, but only got stronger as the games became more meaningful. By the time the best of 3 finals came along, Richter was simply in a zone few goalies could reach. Especially in that deciding game, where he very well might have stolen the World Cup away from the first nation of hockey single-handedly.
"We wouldn't have won the game without him," said Team USA forward Joel Otto. "He was a sensation tonight. The other night here. The first game in Philly. Against the Russians. I don't know how he got his tempo to where it was in such a short time."
Canada stormed out of the gates, taking the play directly to the Americans. They didn't just out play the Yankees, they dominated them. They were showing that maybe they really were the better team, at least during the first 40 minutes of play.
Yet Richter frustrated not only the 20 Canadians on the ice, but the 30 million at home as well. He spectacularly devoured anything that came his way. It was a classic performance in as big a game as there is in hockey. You will never see a better performance in a game of such consequence.
He was that damn good.
Richter, the savvy veteran, was as quick to deflect accolades as he was point shots.
"It was an incredible game. The shots were so lopsided, but the team let me see most of them. I was surprised we came out as strong as we did in the third. It was incredible to see events turn so quickly."
An incredible game and an incredible goaltender. Richter forever secured his place not just in American hockey lore, but hockey legend period.