Hingham native Tony Amonte became a national hockey hero Sept. 14, 1996, when he scored the winning goal in Team USA’s World Cup of Hockey-clinching victory over Canada. On Tuesday, the Hingham native was named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
He caught the bug before the winter of 1980, but its grip became even stronger after that. By the time the winter of ‘88 had passed, his case was incurable.
When the U.S. Olympic hockey team takes the ice next February at the Vancouver Games, some American players will undoubtedly be there because of the fever that consumed them after Tony Amonte scored the most memorable goal of his life in the summer of 1996.
“Definitely the highlight of my career ... the pinnacle,” Amonte said Tuesday afternoon after experiencing another career highlight: The Hingham, Mass., native was named to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
Amonte became a national hockey hero on Sept. 14, 1996, when he scored the winning goal in Team USA’s World Cup of Hockey-clinching victory over Canada on some of the hosts’ most fiercely-defended turf: The Americans won the first World Cup by claiming Game 3 of a best-of-three series at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
“That was the most memorable game of my career,” said Amonte, who turns 39 on Sunday. “The atmosphere, the animosity, was unbelievable. I remember people driving past us really slowly, taunting us, while we were walking to the Bell Centre for the game.”
Already well into an NHL career that stretched for nearly 1,200 games from 1991-92 to 2006-07, Amonte had represented the U.S. before 1996, and would again. He hadn’t been out of Thayer Academy for long before USA Hockey tabbed him for duty in the 1989 World Junior Championships, and he made a repeat appearance the next year. In 1991 and ’93, he competed for Team USA in the World Championships.
Like countless American kids, Amonte had been inspired by the “Miracle On Ice” U.S. team that won gold in the 1980 Olympics.
“Definitely,” he said. “I remember sitting at home, 10 years old, watching the Olympics with my dad (Lewis) and brother (Rocco). It was unbelievable to see that team win.”
The 1988 U.S. team, however, made an equally strong impression on Amonte, who was by then a Boston University-bound senior at Thayer and about to be drafted by the New York Rangers (fourth round, No. 68 overall).
“The 1988 team was touring the country before the Olympics,” he said, “and they played games at Northeastern, BU and Boston College. I got a chance to see them up close, and I really started getting into it.
“Seeing guys like Brian Leetch and Kevin Stevens (Pembroke/Silver Lake High School) made me think it was possible for me to maybe play in the Olympics. To see local guys make the team like they did made me think maybe my turn might come up, too.”
Because he was a Ranger rookie by the time the ’92 Games were played, Amonte had to wait until the NHL and Olympic officials signed off on a plan to open the Games to pros world-wide. The 1996 World Cup of Hockey was a replacement for the Canada Cup tournament, which had lapsed after 1991, a precursor to the ’98 Olympics, and the largest stage on which Amonte and many teammates had played to that point. Team USA dropped the first game of the best-of-three in overtime at Philadelphia, but rebounded to win Games 2 and 3 in Montreal.
Amonte achieved his Olympic goal in 1998, but he and the Americans haven’t taken gold in competition against the world’s best since the ’96 World Cup. The ’98 Games at Nagano, Japan, were a major disappointment for the U.S., which placed sixth, while the 2002 games at Salt Lake City were heartbreaking: Amonte and the Americans reached the gold-medal game, but lost to Canada.
“They got a little bit of payback there (for the ’96 World Cup),” Amonte said. “I didn’t even want to come out of the locker room after that game.”
Induction ceremonies for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn., will be scheduled soon. Amonte will be joined by fellow Massachusetts native Tom Barrasso and frequent U.S. teammate (and World Cup linemate) John LeClair, while members of the gold-medal winning 1998 Olympic women’s team and late ice-resurfacing pioneer Frank Zamboni will also be enshrined.
“It’s a thrill you never expect when you’re growing up,” Amonte said. “When you’re young, you’re just playing for the love of the game.”
Sadly, Amonte won’t be able to bring everyone he’d like to the ceremony. His father, Lewis, passed away in February.
“It’s definitely going to be hard, not having him there,” Amonte said. “He’d be thrilled about this.”
Mike Loftus may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.