The 1996 World Cup of Hockey was a landmark moment for USA Hockey.
The Americans were up against the powerhouse Team Canada in a best-of-three series to crown a tournament champion in the first best-on-best international competition since the 1991 Canada Cup. After dropping the first game in overtime, Team USA won Game 2 to force a third and deciding game. With the score tied 2-2 late in the third period, a rebound bounced out in the slot to American forward Tony Amonte who, whether it was with his stick or his skate, knocked the puck back toward the net and past Canadian goalie Curtis Joseph to seal the win and the tournament victory.
This was the first time Team USA had won a best-on-best hockey competition and was the biggest moment in the country’s hockey history since the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympic Games.
All these years later, Tony’s son Tristan is in his second year as a forward with the Penticton Vees, trying to make his own way in the game of hockey. He hadn’t been born yet in 1996, but Tristan knows all about that World Cup moment and the impact it’s had.
“It’s obviously a huge goal, not only for him, but for America as well,” he said. “That was a big moment, but me and brother give him crap about it and say that he kicked it in.”
It’s easy to look back to that moment and see the impact it had on USA Hockey. These days, the Americans win World Junior Championships with regularity and are often one of the favourites at other high-level international competitions. Many people attribute that World Cup win as the catalyst.
“You want to say that started a movement for USA Hockey and really put them on the map,” said Tony. “It was a great tournament. The Canadians had a very strong team as well. Those games can go either way. There’s such great players out there and they’re all great competitors. It was nice to be a part of it.”
That moment was just one part of a long professional career for Tony, which spanned 17 NHL seasons, including nine with the Chicago Blackhawks where he had the most success. All in all, he played in 1,174 games and racked up 900 points.
It was late in that career when Tristan was born in 2000. His father ended up moving on from Chicago shortly after and made stops with the Phoenix Coyotes and Philadelphia Flyers, before playing his final two seasons with the Calgary Flames.
That’s when the memories really start to kick in for Tristan, who was five-years-old when the family packed up for western Canada.
“I was young, but I remember going to the rink on days that they had off and getting to go on the ice and skate around,” said Tristan. “That’s one of my coolest memories, getting to go out and skate on that ice and be around the locker room, seeing all the pros and how they do things. It’s always something I thought was a pretty cool experience.”
Tristan, along with his older brother Ty, who also played in Penticton, have so far both followed similar career paths to their dad. The two brothers both spent time at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts, as did Tony in the mid 1980s. Tony was also a star at Boston University for two years from 1989 to 1991. Ty has spent the past four years there and Tristan is committed there next year.
Tony has watched them grow and even got behind the bench to coach the two of them earlier in their careers. He sees the similar paths they are taking and just sits back and marvels at how far they’ve both come.
“It’s crazy when they go from kids to young men and they start to figure it out for themselves,” said Tony. “It’s a lot of fun to watch that and watch them develop as players and as people. The biggest thing that I can give to them is to let them know to be a good teammate and be a good person. Everything else will just fall into place.”
One part of Tristan and Ty’s path that does not match up with Tony’s is their time in the BCHL. Ty played one year with the Vees in 2016-17 and Tristan is currently in his second season. When it came time to decide where his sons would play junior before heading to college, the style of play in the BCHL was the deciding factor.
“If your son is a forward and he wants to develop offensively, I think the BCHL is a great place to be,” said Tony. “You get the opportunity to play with the puck and have the puck on your stick a little bit more maybe than you do in a couple of these other leagues. It seems like the game is pretty offensive north of the border.”
Next year when Tristan arrives at BU, his brother will be there as well after sitting out most of the past two years with injury. The two brothers played together at Thayer for one year, but playing on the same team at the NCAA Division I level will be extra special. What makes it even more sentimental is the legacy that is now being continued by a second generation of Amontes.
“I always remember, growing up, we didn’t go to a lot of Bruins games, we went to a lot of BU games,” said Tristan. “Mostly because my dad had those ties there. I always remember going to games and seeing that atmosphere and the guys out there. I always thought, if I ever got the opportunity, that’s where I wanted to go.”
Tony retired after the 2006-07 season with the Flames and three years later, he was inducted into the USA Hockey Hall of Fame. Throughout his career, he represented Team USA at two World Juniors, two World Championships, two World Cups and two Olympic Games.
By the time his dad was inducted, Tristan was 10-years-old. He only got to be around for the tail end of Tony’s career, but that Hall of Fame moment was when things started to sink in for him.
“When you’re younger, you don’t realize it,” said Tristan. “I wasn’t able to watch my dad play like I would be able to now when I’m 20 and able to analyze things. It puts into perspective how good he really was and you begin to realize it. That was one of the things that really opened my eyes to that. I know it meant a lot to him.”