Last week I wrote about the Americans who stood out in Chicago Blackhawks history. Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick. Chris Chelios. Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Upon the final read, however, one of my closest friends let me know that Amonte, like his Blackhawks career, wasn’t appreciated enough in the profile I did.
So today’s will be one to rectify that. My love for Amonte began on international ice.
As I wrote about in my first post here at Chicago Hockey Now, I spent the majority of my life in Chicagoland but remained a hard core Red Wings fan.
I also grew up worshipping the Miracle on Ice. I was too young to see it, but I’d read anything about it, would watch any documentary, even the made-for-TV movie that featured Steve Gutenberg as Jim Craig.
To say I was obsessed was an understatement. Then 1996 happened. That’s when Tony Amonte buried the game winner against the Canadians in the first-ever World Cup of Hockey.
Now, as an American kid growing up and watching 1988, 1992, and 1994 Olympic hockey, there unfortunately wasn’t a lot to get excited about. Though the NHL hasn’t always done well in the marketing department, the ’96 World Cup of Hockey let me finally see a winning American squad. Not only that, it was a chance to cheer for Amonte, Roenick, Chelios, Mike Modano and a whole slew of players I often detested because of their opposing sweater in an always competitive Norris and eventually Central Division.
I always loved Amonte’s game prior to the World Cup Final. He and Chelios were always the first I acquired in NHL ’95 on the Sega Genesis. (Though we all know Roenick was unstoppable in that game and the ’94 version). He would also score a big one against Canada in the gold medal game back in 2002. But that one didn’t end well.
But like the goal that is often forgotten in the footnotes, Amonte is often glossed over in Blackhawks history. So here’s a look at just how good he was for the Blackhawks.
A Bonafide Star in Chicago
Amonte made his way from the New York Rangers via trade in 1994, months before they would hoist the Stanley Cup. He would eventually put up the gaudy numbers he had his first couple seasons in New York. He’d also not miss a single game for five consecutive seasons and the two prior, just two. He played every game in the strike-shortened season of 1994-95, when Chicago made it to the Western Conference Final.
So out of a total of 622 games in that eight season span, he played 620. This was also an era with enforcers, head hits, clutching and grabbing and the terror known as Scott Stevens. In that span of time, he potted 267 goals and 537 points. Among historic Blackhawks, he’s eighth all time in goals and 12th all time in points. In six consecutive seasons, he didn’t score less than 30 goals, topping 40 three times.
In the clutch and grab era.
For sure, he received his day in the spotlight back in 2009 when the Blackhawks were back on the rise. But his legacy still isn’t as shiny as it should be, forgotten in the cobwebs of Blackhawks teams who couldn’t escape the first round of the playoffs in 1996 or 1997. They would miss the playoffs until 2002, where they’d fall to St. Louis in five games and then Amonte would sign with Arizona.
Similar to Steve Larmer, Amonte is a former Blackhawks star who truly hasn’t received the proper recognition he deserves.
Successful 2010’s, 90’s Bulls Clouded Legacy
Now it’s no one’s fault–sometimes history is fickle. Amonte’s retirement in 2008 was quiet, he was honored in 2009, and then the city was swept up in Blackhawks fever with the new generation of Kane, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook.
To younger fans of that era, he was a guy who was pretty good for the Hawks, but didn’t stand out as he should because the franchise success was not nearly as robust. But also, fairly or not, the 90’s belonged to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Hell, there’s a whole ten-episode season dedicated to them that distracted us during the early months of the Covid lockdown back in 2020.
It’s a shame because Amonte had flash and personality, be it the long hair he let go because of his goal scoring prowess. The time he scored a hat trick and let a fan know about it. Or the game winner against Canada back in ’96, which sealed one of America’s best hockey moments in nearly two decades.
But it’s a shame that Amonte’s career was bookmarked by first-round exits and featured another four without a playoff appearance. Give him a better team and some longer playoff runs and maybe #10 finds its way into the rafters.
Until then, hopefully this one serves as a more poignant representation of what Amonte meant to the organization. If there ever is a ring of honor, his name should absolutely be on the first ballot.
The Red Wings loving 15-year-old, celebrating his game winner against Canada, would agree, too.