Hockey's origins in the United States are almost as old as they are in Canada, though it was not until Canadian teams began to tour the northeastern United States in the late 19th century that the game really caught on. Canadians were also paid to play in the U.S. as part of hockey's first professional league in the early 1900s. The United States did not meet teams from outside North America until 1920. That year, the Americans made their international debut at the Antwerp Olympics. Led by Hall of Fame member Francis "Moose"Goheen, they took the silver medal, losing only to Canada.
Until the creation of the United States Amateur Hockey Association in 1920, amateur hockey had been controlled by the International Skating Union. In 1924, the Americans repeated as silver medallists at the Chamonix Olympics. In 1924-25, the Boston Bruins became the first U.S.-based team in the National Hockey League.
At the end of the 1925-26 season the USAHA disbanded and left amateur hockey in the United States without a governing body until 1930 when the Amateur Athletic Union took over. In the meantime, the U.S. missed the 1928 Olympics and 1930 World Championships.
The first entirely All-American team to represent the country internationally was the Boston Olympics, a squad composed entirely of Massachusetts-born players. The team placed second behind Canada in the 1931 World Championships and won another silver medal at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid. The USA finally upset Canada in 1933 to win its first and only World Championship in a non-Olympic year.
The growth of the game in the 1930s was sporadic. Canadian imports were gobbling up college hockey scholarships and there was no clear policy to develop young American players. More emphasis was placed on developing home-grown players after the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States was formed in 1937. Still, squabbles between AHAUS and the Amateur Athletic Union hampered American hockey and were not resolved until after the 1948 Olympics. With AHAUS fully in control, Olympic silver medals were won in 1952 and 1956. Notable members of the U.S. National Team included Jack Riley, John Mayasich and Bill Cleary.
The 1960 Winter Olympics, staged in Squaw Valley, California, were a spectacular success for American hockey. Led by goaltender Jack McCartan, the Americans defeated Canada and the Soviet Union en route to the gold medal. This triumph spurred interest in hockey and U.S. college programs began to see more American talent. High school hockey programs in Minnesota, Massachusetts and other states began to feed increasingly skilled players into the college hockey system.
The U.S. won a surprising silver medal at the 1972 Olympics with a team that included Mark Howe and Robbie Ftorek on its roster, but the late 1960s and 1970s were not a good time for American hockey. In 1969, the United States sent more men to the moon than it did to the National Hockey League. Internationally, using a team built around a nucleus of college players, Team USA was relegated to the IIHF's "B" Pool in the early to mid-1970s. Coached by Canadian Bob Pulford, Team USA finished fifth among six teams at the inaugural Canada Cup tournament in 1976.
Another Olympic triumph -- widely known as the "Miracle on Ice" -- took place in 1980 in Lake Placid. Many of the players on this team went on to enjoy successful careers in the NHL and the upstart squad help spur renewed interest in hockey in the United States. With more Americans going on to NHL careers, the late NHL and NCAA coach "Badger" Bob Johnson revamped the National Team program in 1987, making greater use of NHL players. By 1991, Team USA finished as runner-up at the 1991 Canada Cup. A bronze medal at the 1996 World Championships was followed with a win over Canada at the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. While the Americans were a disappointment in men's hockey at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, the women's team that had finished second behind Canada at four consecutive World Championships finally beat its arch rivals to win the gold medal.