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WCH 2016: Team USA’s Past Performances

The third edition of the World Cup of Hockey officially starts off in just over a week, and Team USA is aiming for a trophy-worthy run. With a total of eight teams boasting heavy talent—either offensively, defensively, or both—it is sure to be an exciting tournament. It will take both skill and luck to come out on top.

But, this competition has happened twice in the past. The first one took place in 1996, and the other occurred in 2004. How did the Americans fare in those tournaments, and what are some realistic expectations for this year’s event?

Well, let’s take a look.

1996 World Cup of Hockey

Team USA Roster

Forwards Defensemen Goaltenders
Bryan Smolinski Brian Leetch Mike Richter
Mike Modano Darian Hatcher Guy Hebert
John LeClair Kevin Hatcher Jim Carey
Tony Amonte Matthieu Schneider x
Bill Guerin Phil Housley x
Sean McEachern Chris Chelios x
Brett Hull Gary Suter x
Pat LaFontaine Shawn Chambers x
Keith Tkachuk x x
Adam Deadmarsh x x
Doug Weight x x
Scott Young x x
Steve Konowalchuk x x
Brian Rolston x x
Joel Otto x x

This roster featured five future Hockey-Hall-of-Famers (Mike Modano, Brett Hull, Pat LaFontaine, Brian Leetch, and Chris Chelios) in addition to Mike Richter, who is one of the best goaltenders in the history of USA Hockey.

The team’s defense was legendary, and there were numerous players on the front end who possessed loads of talent but have not been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Tony Amonte and Keith Tkatchuk, for example, were fantastic NHL players who have yet to be voted in.

With a lineup as stacked as this, the expectations for the team were high.

Result: First Place

The Americans went undefeated in pool play and earned a bye in the elimination rounds. This automatically put them into the semifinals, where they defeated the Russians by a score of 5-2 to move on to the championship.

Team USA faced Canada in the best-of-three series to decide the winner of the tournament.

Canada defeated the United States in overtime in Game One, pushing the Americans to the brink of elimination. However, Team USA rallied back and won Game Two and Game Three to emerge with the trophy. Every one of their elimination-round wins came by a score of 5-2.

Tournament MVP: Mike Richter

Tournament Leading Scorer: Brett Hull (7 GP, 7 G + 4 A = 11 Pts)

2004 World Cup of Hockey

Team USA Roster

Forwards Defensemen Goaltenders
Keith Tkachuk Brian Leetch Robert Eshe
Mike Modano Aaron Miller Ty Conklin
Tony Amonte Eric Weinrich Rick DiPietro
Brian Rolston Paul Martin x
Bill Guerin Ken Klee x
Jamie Langenbrunner Chris Chelios x
Brett Hull John-Michael Liles x
Scott Gomez Brian Rafalski x
Bryan Smolinski x x
Steve Konowalchuk x x
Jeff Halpern x x
Craig Conroy x x
Chris Drury x x
Dough Weight x x
Jason Blake x x

With 11 returning players from the 1996 World Cup of Hockey on the roster, Team USA maintained its prestigious lineup while adding more talented names, like Brian Rafalski and Chris Drury. This team was every bit as skilled as the one that competed in the 90’s.

However, the roster players who had already won the tournament were now eight years older than they were back then. Declining performance with age was likely a concern, and the absence of the former MVP, Richter, could definitely play a negative role in the team’s play.

Result: Eliminated in Semifinals

Unlike 1996, the United States went 1-2 in the preliminary round, falling to both Canada and Russia (while defeating Slovakia). This meant they would have had to go through all three elimination rounds to win the trophy.

They met with the Russians again in the quarterfinals, but were able to come out with a 5-3 victory.

Unfortunately, the Americans then ran into a skilled Finland squad led by goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. Team USA fell by a score of 2-1 after surrendering two goals in the third period.

Canada eventually beat Finland in the championship round to win the tournament.

Tournament MVP: Vincent Lecavalier

Tournament Leading Scorer: Fredrik Modin (4 GP, 4 G + 4 A = 8 Pts)

 2016 World Cup of Hockey Expectations

Roster

Forwards Defensemen Goaltenders
Joe Pavelski Ryan McDonagh Jonathan Quick
James Van Riemsdyk Dustin Byfuglien Cory Schneider
Patrick Kane John Carlson Ben Bishop
Blake Wheeler Ryan Suter x
Zach Parise Matt Niskanen x
T.J. Oshie Jack Johnson x
Ryan Kesler Erik Johnson x
Max Pacioretty x x
Justin Abdelkader x x
David Backes x x
Brandon Dubinsky x x
Kyle Palmieri x x
Derek Stepan x x

The 2016 roster for Team USA is one of the more well-rounded rosters in this year’s tournament. It features a strong forward group, a talented defense corp, and three high-quality goaltenders. Many rosters, like the Swedes or the Russians, are either offense heavy or defense heavy. This is not the case for the Americans.

As expected, there are no returning players from the 2004 World Cup of Hockey. In fact, John-Michael Liles and Paul Martin are the only two alumni from that team who still play in the NHL. This is the case for most teams, however.

Projected Finish: Runner Up

The United States plays in a fairly weak group featuring a ragtag Team Europe and the injury-plagued Czech Republic. But, Canada is also in the group, giving the Americans some serious competition before the elimination rounds.

Given this information, it is likely that Team USA will go 2-1 in pool play and finish second in the group to Canada.

The other group—with Finland, Russia, Sweden, and North America—is a bit difficult to predict though, so who the United States will play in the first elimination round is a mystery. However, because the Americans are so well-rounded, it is highly possible that they can defeat any team in the opposing group. Sweden will give them the most trouble, but a victory is still realistic.

Beating whoever they play in Group B will advance them to the final series, which will likely be against Canada. Team USA may be good, but Canada is stacked, so being swept in the best-of-three round is probable. This means Canada will win the trophy, while the United States takes the runner up spot.

That’s respectable, I think.

Not Set in Stone

While the 1996 and 2004 World Cup of Hockey tournaments have already happened, the 2016 event has yet to be played. Anything is possible in hockey, so we will just have to wait and see what happens.

As we know, nothing is set in stone, and that makes me very excited.

About Drew Weber

Drew Weber is a lover of hockey and abuser of analytics. Prior to joining Pucknology, he covered the San Jose Sharks and Team USA for The Hockey Writers and contributed briefly to Fear the Fin. You can follow him on Twitter at @puck_over_glass.

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