Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The United States Medals for the First Time in 34 Years - 1996 United States National Team Brian Rolston Jersey

The United States competed in the first Olympic hockey tournament held back in 1920 at the Summer Games. They opened with a 29-0 win over Switzerland before being handed a 2-0 loss by Canada. They then defeated Sweden 7-0 and Czechoslovakia 16-0 to claim the silver medal.

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The 1920 United States Olympic Team,
the first medalists in US hockey history

They returned for the 1924 Games, now logically moved to the Winter Olympics. Wins over Belgium (19-0), France (22-0) and Great Britain (11-0) moved them into the Final Round where they defeated Sweden (20-0) before losing in the final game to Canada 6-1 to finish as the silver medalists once more.

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The 1924 United States Olympic Team

The United States did not compete at the 1928 Olympic hockey tournament, which also served as the third World Championships. In 1930, the first stand-alone World Championships were held in Chamonix, France, although the warm weather melted the ice and the final game of the Knockout Round and the Gold Medal Final were moved to Berlin, Germany. As in 1928, the United States did not participate in the event.

The Americans were back in action at the 1931 World Championships where they defeated Romania 15-0, Austria 2-1, Sweden 3-0, Czechoslovakia 1-0 and Poland 1-0 before again losing to Canada 2-0 in the final game to be classified second and earn their third silver medal.

The won another silver as hosts of the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York with a 4-1-1 record, with their only blemishes being a 2-1 overtime loss to Canada in the opening game and a 2-2 tie with Canada in the final game.

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The United States won silver in Lake Placid in 1932

At the 1933 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia, the United States was represented by the Massachusetts Rangers, which was made up almost entirely of college students led by goaltender Gerry Cosby. The US entered the tournament during the Second Round of play and advance to the Final Round with a 7-0 defeat of Switzerland, a 4-0 win over Poland and a 6-0 win over Czechoslovakia. In the Final Round Cosby posted his fourth shutout, a 4-0 blanking of Austria. They then won their first World Championship gold medal with a 2-1 overtime win against rivals Canada.

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The 1933 Massachusetts Rangers, who won the only
gold medal for the Untied States at the World Championships

Over the next 30 years the United States would win silver in 1934, bronze at the 1936 Olympics and silver in 1939 before the suspension of play due to World War II. After international play resumed in 1947, the US won bronze in 1949, silver in 1950 and again at both the 1952 and 1956 Olympics.

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1936 United States Olympic Team

Everything went right for the United States at the 1960 Olympics, held in Squaw Valley, California. The Americans opened with a come from behind 7-5 win over Czechoslovakia thanks to a four goal third period. After defeating Australia 12-1, the moved to the Medal Rounds and beat Sweden 6-3, Germany 9-1, Canada 2-1, the Soviet Union 3-2 and the Czechs again 9-4, again coming from behind after two periods with a 6 goal third.

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The 1960 USA Gold Medal team celebrates

Two years later in 1962 the Americans would win their final medal for 34 years when they won bronze on home ice in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the first non-Olympic World Championship held in North America. The American medal was aided in no small part by a boycott of the tournament by both the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia in response to the Americans and the Canadians skipping the 1967 World Championships in Moscow. Sweden won with a 7-0 record over 6-1 Canada while the United States lost to both of them to finish in third at 5-2.

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The 1962 World Champions Sweden, who benefited from
the boycott of the tournament my the Czechs and the Soviets

Other than their Olympic medals in 1952, 1956 and 1960, the boycott assisted medal in 1962 was the Americans first medal at a stand alone World Championship since 1949 and 1950, as Czechoslovakia and Sweden both improved after World War II, with the Czech taking seven medals between the resumption of play in 1947 through 1962 while the Swedes took eight during the same time period, having previously only winning a single silver in 1928 while the Czechs had only won three bronze medals before the war.

The biggest factor to explain the American medal drought was the shocking arrival of the Soviet Union on the international hockey stage in 1954, which earned them their first of 22 gold medals through 1990. To go with their near stranglehold on the gold, the Soviets also took with them seven silver medals and five bronze - going 34 for 34 between 1954 and 1991. Of note, the Olympics stopped counting as the World Championships in 1972 when a separate Olympic and World Championship tournaments were held in the same year for the first time. The only tournament during that time period without a Soviet medal was due to their boycott in 1962.

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The first Soviet World Champions in 1954

Following their bronze medal in 1962, the US finished 8th in 1963 and then either fifth or sixth for the rest of the decade. In 1969, Pool A shrank from 8 teams down to 6, with the Americans finishing last after going 0-10 and being relegated for the first time in their history to Pool B for 1970.

They responded well by sweeping the likes of West Germany, Norway, Yugoslavia, Japan, Switzerland, Romania and Bulgaria to return to Pool A for 1971. Despite the United States winning silver at the 1972 Olympics, their results at the World Championships later that spring were not nearly as successful, as their 2-8 record dropped them back to Pool B after a heartbreaking final game against West Germany, who they needed to beat by five goals. After leading 5-0 after two periods, the Germans got the goal they needed for survival in the third period to win the standings tiebreaker and send the Americans down.

It would take the United States three tries to earn a promotion back to Pool A in 1974. They did just miss out on a medal in 1976 with a 4th place but were again relegated back to Pool B in 1982 after a dismal 0-6-1 record, which included a loss to Italy with their only positive being a final day tie with West Germany.

At their first opportunity to earn a promotion back to the Top Division in 1983, the United States rolled to a 6-0-1 record, with their only blemish being a 4-4 tie with Austria.

For the next ten tournaments (the World Championships were not held in both 1984 and 1988), the best the US could muster were fourth place finishes in 1985, 1991 and 1994.

The 1995 tournament began well for the US, winning the competitive Group 2 with an undefeated 3-0-2 record, however, their "reward" for winning their group was a matchup with the fourth place team from Group 1 - Canada, who had somehow finished behind both Italy and France! The Canadians then ended the Americans tournament with a 4-1 win which resulted in a final classification for the United States of 6th.

The 1996 IIHF World Championships were held in Vienna, Austria and feature a field of 12 nations divided at first into two groups, with the United States being placed in the difficult Group 1. They opened with a 5-1 win over Austria followed by a 4-2 victory over Germany. They lost 3-1 to Russia but rebounded with a tight 4-3 win over Slovakia. They closed out group play with a meaningless 5-1 loss to Canada, as they had already clinched second place in the group.

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The Quarterfinals saw the Americans paired with Sweden, which went the way of the US 3-2 and guaranteed that they would at least play for a medal. Their next opponent was the Czech Republic, who dashed the hopes of a gold or silver medal with a 5-0 thrashing of the United States on their way to claim gold.

Meanwhile, in the other Semifinal, Canada outlasted Russia in a shootout 3-2, which meant the United States would face the Russians for the bronze medal the next day.

First blood went to the Russians when Alexei Yashin scored just 2:58 into the game from Sergei Berezin and Vitali Karamonov. A minute and a half later the lead was 2-0 when Dimitri Kvartalnov scored Vladimir Vorobiev and Oleg Tverdovsky. Halfway through the second period Berezin put the Russians out to a commanding 3-0 lead with assists from Boris Mironov and Alexei Zhitnik at 9:49.

The Americans showed their first signs of life when Brian Rolston scored at 17:49 from Joe Sacco and Kevin Stevens. Just 29 seconds later the Americans had a second goal when Chris Tancill was set up by Tom Chorske at 18:18 of the second to make it 3-2 with plenty of time remaining.

I would take just 3:22 of the third period for the United States to pull even when Derek Plante scored unassisted. Neither team was able to find the game winner over the remainder of the third period and the game moved into overtime as the next goal would be worth the bronze medal.

The game and bronze medal winning goal came 4:48 into overtime when Sacco flew down the left side of the ice, picked up a loose puck and headed for the Russian goal. but just as he was being forced to go behind the net, he threw the puck back into the slot past a sprawling Russian defenseman to Rolston streaking up the middle. Rolston fired the puck past the Russian goaltender, burying it in the net and setting off a celebration of the first American medal since 1962.

"It was pretty dramatic," said Chorske. "It was a shorthanded goal by Brian Rolston, so that was pretty incredible. The Russian team was always good, and that was a time just after the heyday of the Red Army teams, so it was a big deal to beat the Russians. To be on this team was really something. It proved that USA Hockey was ascending to be one of the top teams in the world. It was a step forward in our success internationally for a long time to come."

"After we got that medal, I think guys started to realize there was something to play for, said Sacco. "It's a great tournament and it was a lot of fun. To bring home a medal in the process, the first in 34 years, you leave a mark when you do something like that."

The American roster consisted of Stevens, Rolston, Sacco, Adam Deadmarsh, Chorske, Craig Johnson, Dan Plante, Derek Plante, Darby Hendrickson, Marty McInnis, Brian Bonin, Chris Luongo, Tom Pederson, Mike Crowley, Paul Stanton, Mike Lalor, Tom O'Regan, Bobby Reynolds, Scott Lachance and goaltenders Tim Thomas, Guy Hebert, John Grahame and Parris Duffus, who did the bulk of the work, playing in seven of the eight American games.

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The 1996 United States bronze medalists

The United States bronze medal set the table for the American victory at the inaugural World Cup of Hockey later in the fall of 1996, the greatest triumph for the USA since the 1980 Olympic Miracle on Ice.

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On the heels of the World Championship team,
the 1996 US team won the inaugural World Cup of Hockey

At the World Championships since their return to the medal podium in 1996, the US has won bronze medals in 2004 and recently in both 2013 and 2015.

Today's featured jersey is a 1996 United States National Team Brian Rolston jersey. This rare style of jersey was worn only at the 1996 World Championships, the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and the 1997 World Championships until an all new style debuted for the 1998 Olympic Games.

The American championship at the 1996 World Cup increased the demand for this jersey and it's short lifespan limited it's production numbers. Only the white ones were made for retail sales and any of the road blue jerseys were intended for game use by one of the national teams from that time period, which is evident by the considerably larger sizes when one does become available.

Of note, the white jerseys were sold as blank jerseys with sublimated crests and labeled with letter sizes (M, L, XL) and customized ones with sewn on twill crests as World Cup players #2 Brian Leetch, goaltender #35 Mike Richter and #27 Jeremy Roenick in numbered sizes (48,52).

However...

Roenick never played in the 1996 World Cup due to the risk of injury during the tournament as his NHL contract had expired, leaving him uninsured should something catastrophic have happened. For reasons of historical accuracy, we would avoid purchasing any of the Roenick customized jerseys and would opt for the Leetch or Richter versions.

The 1996 World Championship jerseys carried the unique to the World Championships Warsteiner beer sponsorship patches on the upper arms, while the World Cup jerseys all had the small 3" version of the World Cup tournament logo on the upper left arm.

This style of USA jersey features dye-sublimated "waving flag" stripes on the waist that contain subtle stars in the red areas, as well as in the red sleeve stripes.

Rolston would play in 1,256 games, scoring 342 goals and 761 points during his 17 year NHL career, which included winning a Stanley Cup in 1995. Internationally, he would play in the World Junior Championships 3 times, the 1996 World Championships (earning a bronze), the 1996 (winning the championship) and 2004 World Cup and the 1994, 2002 and 2006 Olympics, winning silver in 2002.

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USA 1996 WC jersey photo USA 1996 WC P1.jpg

Today's bonus jersey is a 1996 United States National Team Brian Leetch jersey as worn when the United States captured the inaugural World Cup of Hockey championship.

The jersey features the smaller 3" size World Cup of Hockey logo patch worn on the left shoulder by the Nike-clad teams in the tournament, which included not only the USA, but Russia, Slovakia, Finland and Germany.

The larger 4" size patch was worn by the teams that wore Bauer jerseys, which were the Czech Republic and Sweden, who also wore the patch on the left shoulder, and Canada, who wore the patch on their right chest.

As was Nike's practice at the time, jerseys sold customized with player names and numbers featured sewn twill crests and were tagged with numbered sizes, such as 48 and 52, but without fight straps.

None of the customized Leetch, Richter or Roenick jerseys were sold with the World Cup patch and the Leetch jerseys also did not come with the captain's "C". Those with a desire for accuracy would need to have those added separately for proper authenticity.

The blue road jerseys were not available for retail sale and can only be found as game worn or team issued jerseys, which are complete with fight straps.

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USA 1996 WCOH jersey photo USA 1996 WCOH 2 B.jpg
USA 1996 WCOH jersey photo USA 1996 WCOH 2 P.jpg

Today's bonus jersey is a 1996 United States National Team Brett Hull jersey as worn when the United States captured the inaugural World Cup of Hockey championship.

The blue road jerseys were not available for retail sale and can only be found as game worn or team issued jerseys, which are complete with fight straps.

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 photo USA 1996 WCOH R P1.jpg

Today's video section begins with Rolston scoring shorthanded in overtime to earn the United States the bronze medal, their first medal at the World Championships in 34 years. Please excuse the quality of the video, we have yet to find any other footage of this game of better quality and this was posted by no less a source that USA Hockey themselves.



Next up is rare footage of the United States wearing their blue jerseys from the 1996 World Championships, mostly digging the puck out of their own net in a 5-0 loss against the eventual champion Czech Republic.


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