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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

Canada Cup: USA emerges as a new rival

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

The 1991 Canada Cup would be a breakthrough for the United States, marking their first trip to the final in the tournament. Previous to 1991, the best results for the Stars and Stripes was back-to-back semi-final loses in 1981 and 1984; 1976 and 1984 were fifth-place finishes. Outside of the Canada Cup, the United States suffered from the same issue that Canada did: their best players were not available or allowed to compete in tournaments like the Olympics and World Championships. The 1980 Miracle on Ice aside, from 1976 to 1990, the United States did not win a single medal in Olympic or World Championship competition. In fact, they were relegated to the B Pool of the World Championships in 1982 (they did gain promotion back to the A Pool the following year).

The early 1990s would see the nation emerge from the hockey doldrums on the backs of their greatest generation of hockey players. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1991 Canada Cup finals appearance, and victory over Canada at 1996 World Cup would cement the USA's role as Canada’s biggest hockey rival for the next two decades.

As with the Team Canada posts, all of the players on Team USA's cards are featured elsewhere in the set, so for this post we will focus exclusively on the players' international career.

Card # 32 – Mike Modano

The first card from Team USA is centre Mike Modano, the first overall pick of the Minnesota North Stars in 1988. Modano would enter his third NHL season after the 1991 tourney, his first Canada Cup for Team USA. The dynamic centre, who scored 15 points in seven game as the 1989 World Juniors, would rack up nine points in eight games, tying for third in overall scoring with teammate Brett Hull.

Modano would be a big part of the cohort of US players that would break through to win the 1996 World Cup, and would participate in the 2004 tourney as well. He would also appear in three Olympics (1998, 2002 and 2006), winning silver in 2002 on home soil at Salt Lake City.

Also take care to note the fantastic mullet on the baby-faced Modano on the rear photo above!

Card # 33 – Brett Hull

Note: This is one of three cards that I do not have in the set. If you have a spare one floating around, please email me!

The son of NHL legend Bobby Hull, Brett represented the US internationally for hockey, despite being born in Belleville, Ontario. The Golden Brett, passed over by Team Canada for the 1986 World Championships, took advantage of his dual citizenship and chose to suit up with the stars and stripes from then on.

Going in to the 1991 Canada Cup, Hull was possibly the hottest superstar in the NHL. The five-year veteran had won the Hart and Pearson trophies in 1990-91 behind the strength of an 86 goal season, third most of all-time. The 1991 tourney was Brett’s first best-on-best for Team USA, and he would tie for the team lead in scoring with Mike Modano, recording an identical two goals and nine points in eight games.

Much like Modano and other teammates featured in this card series, Hull would play in the 1996 and 2004 World Cups, leading the tournament in scoring in 1996. He would also appear in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics; he was rumoured to have been the ring leader behind the room trashing incident at the 1998 Olympics.

Card # 34 – Mike Richter

Team USA’s # 1 goalie, Richter was a second round pick of the New York Rangers in 1985. He would be entering his third NHL season as a 25-year-old, splitting net-minding duties with veteran John Vanbiesbrouck.

In his first Canada Cup, Richter would stake the USA to a 4-3 record in their silver medal effort. Richter has previously played for Team USA in 1988 Olympics in Calgary and would also appear in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics as well. Richter’s finest international hockey moment, much like many of his teammates, would be the 1996 World Cup, where was an integral part of the USA’s gold medal win over Canada, winning tournament MVP honors.

As you can see, at the 1991 tournament Richter was still rocking the bird-cage helmet. He would switch to one of the best goalie mask designs of all time (in my opinion), the Lady Liberty, shortly thereafter. The awesome thing is his mask did double duty for international hockey and with the New York Rangers.

Card # 35 – Brian Leetch

Richter’s teammates with the Rangers, Leetch was a first round pick in the 1986 draft. Entering his fifth season on Broadway, Leetch had established himself as one of the top offensive defenceman in the league, having scored 88 points in 1990-91.

The 23-year-old would be appearing in his first Canada Cup, although he did boast international experience from the 1988 Olympics. Leetch would scored four points in seven games.

Brian would go on to captain the 1996 World Cup champion team, appearing at the 2004 World Cup as well as the 1998 and 2002 Olympics.

In less than a few weeks, Mark Messier, photobombing Leetch on the front picture of the card, would become his New York Rangers teammate.

Card # 36 – Jeremy Roenick

The bombastic, mulleted centre, Roenick was a first round pick of the Blackhawks in 1988. The 22-year-old would already be entering his fourth season with the Hawks after the tournament, and was no stranger to international hockey. Alongside Mike Modano, he torched the 1989 World Junior tournament, recording 16 points in seven games on home soil in Alaska.

He would continue the torrid international play at the 1991 Canada Cup, scoring six points (including four goals) in eight games, tying for seventh in scoring, and being named a tournament all-star.

JR would appear at the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, winning a silver medal in Salt Lake City.

Card # 37 – Chris Chelios

One of the veteran players on the team, defenceman Chelios would be entering his ninth NHL season after the tournament, his second with his home town Chicago Blackhawks.

One of the few USA players with Canada Cup experience (he played in the 1984 and 1988 tourneys as well as the 1984 Olympics), Chelios would score four points in eight games and be named a tournament all-star for his efforts.

Chelios would go on to play for Team USA at the 1996 World Cup, and captain the squad at the 2004 World Cup as well as the 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympics.

Fittingly enough, the rear photo is Chelios giving a subtle butt-end to the Great One, befitting his gritty playing style.

That's it for Canada Cup cards (at least until we hit the high series of the set). Up next we tackle the Upper Deck All-Rookie Team, as well as a few unique cards that defy categorization.

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