The growth of hockey on a world level and the changing political landscape saw 36 national teams play in Pools A, B, C, and D in 1996. Vienna played host to the 1996 "A" Pool World tournament. Martin Prochazka's goal in the final minute of play gave the Czech Republic a dramatic 3-2 victory over Canada in the gold medal game. Robert Lang, a hero on Czechoslovakia's bronze medal-winning team at the 1992 Olympics, had scored twice in regulation time for the Czechs, with Steve Thomas connecting twice for Canada. It was the first world title for players representing the Czech Republic. Canada qualified for the final by upsetting Russia in a shoot-out in the semifinals. Yanic Perreault's successful attempt stood as the winning goal. The United States made a remarkable comeback from a 2-0 first period deficit to defeat Russia 4-3 on an overtime goal by Brian Rolston in the bronze medal game.
The Czech Republic's victory came in the year in which Slovakia made its first appearance in "A" Pool. The Slovaks managed just a win and a tie in the preliminary round and failed to qualify for the playoffs. Canada's Paul Kariya was named the tournament's best forward, while Alexei Zhitnik of the Soviet Union won the award for the top defenceman and Roman Turek of the Czech Republic was selected best goaltender.