The Yale men’s hockey team had last weekend off. But head coach Keith Allain ’80 earned a big win of his own: He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 31 as part of the United States 1996 World Cup of Hockey championship team.
Allain served as an assistant coach on the team, which featured six future National Hockey League Hall of Famers: Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, Brett Hull, Pat LaFontaine, Brian Leetch and Mike Modano. Goaltender Mike Richter, for whom the Best Goalie Award in college hockey is named, was awarded the tournament MVP.
“I’ve been really blessed with the amount of opportunities that USA Hockey has given me, each and every one of them,” Allain said. “I always thought of it as a graduate course in coaching because I’m working with coaches that are really good, and I’m working with the best players in their age group in the country. I always look at those not only as a great honor and opportunity to represent our country, but also for me to learn an awful lot from the people I was around.”
The World Cup of Hockey served as the successor tournament to the Canada Cup, which had been played every five years after its formation in 1976. The Canada Cup rather than the Olympics served as a true world championship tournament because professional NHL players were not allowed to compete in the Olympics until the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
The Canadians won four Canada Cups, while the Soviet Union team won the other in 1981, the year after the Miracle on Ice. The Americans only reached the final on one occasion.
The U.S. team cruised through the round robin group stage. They beat Canada, Russia and Slovakia with scores of 5–3, 5–2 and 9–3, respectively. The first-place finish earned the Americans a bye into the semifinal, where they dominated the Russians in a rematch with an identical scoreline. However, the U.S. dropped the opening game of the best-of-three finals series to powerhouse Team Canada 4–3 at home in overtime, with Steve Yzerman finding the winner.
“Obviously losing the first game of the finals in overtime in Philly and then having to go to Montreal to win two, where I don’t think there were 40 U.S. fans in the building, … was really a monumental task,” Allain said. “I do think it was the best U.S. team ever, particularly when you look at the guys that were in their prime, so the moment was right for us.”
The Americans travelled back to Montreal, facing two must-win games. In their way stood a Canadian team starring 10 future Hockey Hall of Famers, including the NHL’s all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Mark Messier and Yzerman and backstopped by the NHL’s all-time winningest goalie, Martin Brodeur.
The U.S. team won both games by a 5–2 margin, roaring back from a 2–1 deficit in the third period of the final game to claim the gold. Hull scored his second goal of the game to level the contest with just over three minutes to play, before Tony Amonte scored the winner 43 seconds later. That victory remains the United States’ only championship in a World Cup of Hockey. The U.S. team crashed out after a winless group stage in the 2016 competition.
Coach Allain has also been an assistant coach for USA Hockey on the 1992 and 2006 Olympic Teams, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey team and head coach at the 2001, 2002 and 2011 World Junior Championships. The U.S. won bronze with a 4–2 defeat of Sweden in the 2011 championships, which took place in Buffalo, NY. This finish marked the first time that the United States won a medal on home ice at the World Juniors.
“I can tell you [that] the very first time that I stood on a bench after a game in a foreign country and they were playing our anthem because we had won, it just gave me a feeling that I will absolutely never forget,” Allain said. “That was with an under-16 team — it wasn’t the Olympics, it wasn’t the World Championships, but it was representing our country … I’d imagine that [USA Hockey] would tap me on the shoulder for something in the future, and if I could make it work, I would always be available.”
Coach Allain has been the Yale men’s hockey coach since 2007 and led the team to a National Championship in 2013.