ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mike Legg’s goal in the 1996 NCAA Tournament continues to resonate across hockey. Many remember Legg’s goal as the momentum-changer in the regional final against Minnesota.
In Michigan’s 4-3 win on March 24, 1996, Legg took possession of the puck behind the Minnesota goal, then placed his stick parallel to the ice and somehow cradled the puck in the curve of his stick blade.
Then, Legg, a right wing, pushed to the net and flipped his stick upside down, releasing the puck into the goal over the shoulder of Minnesota goalie Steve DeBus to tie the game at 2-2.
Legg’s goal still stands the test of time, and it’s been replicated by hockey players across the country.
In January, Kalle Kossila paid homage to Legg with a lacrosse-style goal in an American Hockey League game.
And in 2009, a pint-sized phenom named Oliver Wahlstrom scored a goal using a similar move during the TDBank Mini 1-on-1 competition in Boston.
Legg pulled off the shot one more time in October, during a reunion of the 1996 Michigan hockey team at Yost Ice Arena. Michigan’s 1996 national hockey championship was recently featured as No. 5 in Land of 10’s 100 Michigan Moments.
Legg is originally from London, Ontario, and now lives in the suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, where he is a firefighter.
How did you get to British Columbia, and how did you become a firefighter?
My whole family moved out to British Columbia, and I’d travel all over, playing hockey with my dad with these guys that were firefighters. They were always there, always fun and I talked more with them. They’d ask me, ‘Do you play softball? Why don’t you come to our firefighter functions?’ I got to know them better and they encouraged me, and asked me, ‘Why don’t you become a firefighter?’
I didn’t have the requirements. But they guided me on that path, and I saw what it entailed, their lifestyle, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome.’
Firefighting, it’s a real team game, as they say. You’re going to something different every single day. You’re trying to complete a task with your guys, the tools you guys have and what’s on the truck.
Your name is synonymous with a well-known goal in college hockey. Was that a spur-of-the-moment move?
I was always a bit of a rink rat. Even after our long practices, I’d stay out there and mess around with guys like Marty Turco, Steven Halko. We messed around with a bunch of different things we tried. I practiced [the shot] a lot. All through my four years I goofed around with it.
Going into those playoffs, I remember practicing it and thinking, and telling myself, ‘Do not do this. It’s the playoffs, don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this.’ You get into a familiar position and it just was kind of natural, to be like, this is the perfect time. It was more of a reaction because I practiced it so much.
One of those days I was practicing it after a practice with the team. [Coach] Red Berenson was talking with [assistant coaches] Mel Pearson and Billy Powers at the red line, about the upcoming events, so I started doing it behind the net. I needed the OK to take that kind of shot. I asked referees if it was OK. The refs didn’t say no. But I needed clearance from Berenson, because there aren’t too many times this is going to happen. Berenson, as he’s skating off the ice, he looked at me, saw me do it and said, ‘Is that legal?’
I stammered a bit and said, ‘Well, the refs I asked didn’t say no.’ Red looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you do that in a game?’
And then it happened!
Marty Turco was unbelievable in that game against Minnesota. The were destroying us in shots; they probably had double our shots. We needed a big hit, something to happen to change the momentum of that game. Once that goal went in, a switch went on. Minnesota still wondered if it was legal, and we kept going.
What do you think distinguished the 1995-96 Michigan hockey team?
It was the bond between us that started from, even my visits, my official visits. I went to a couple visits and saw, there’s guys, from the seniors to guys that have moved to the NHL, and they’re all on the same level. There’s no sense of, ‘I’m a senior and I have more seniority than you.’ It was more of a family and everybody helping everybody.
It was a very easy decision for me, to be a part of the University of Michigan. I think that was set up a long time ago, before we were there. It’s about all the guys that have gone through and have come back and all the connections we have. It’s like a family away from your family. Fighting at practice for what we knew we could accomplish, some time, some day. We were always in the hunt, thinking, ‘We have to win it, we are going to win it. What do we have to do to win it?’
There was a bond as a team, too. We did everything together.
The mentality of ‘We have to win it’ — was that part of the program’s culture?
I think the University of Michigan and the whole program is that. Leaders and the best. Let’s live up to that. Over the years, all the student-athletes going there, that’s what you’re striving to do. To come across the same individuals and the same mentally projected outcome, what you want out of college sports and out of a team, that’s something pretty special. Especially to have all those guys on the same page, on one team.
Your goal against Minnesota in 1996 is a touchstone moment, but what else, to you, defined the 1996 season?
Leading up to it and the years before, we were always thinking we were going to be national champions at some point in our career. Every year before that, the previous two years for me, we were thinking, ‘We’re right there. If we’re not national champions this year, that’s a disappointment.’ We knew, ‘We can do this.’
I think about those years leading up to it, for myself, and catching your stride into the playoffs. You’re battling through certain situations and everyone’s pulling together at the right time. It’s all about timing. You grow during the year and you’re hitting your stride in the playoffs.
At the end of the year, we were crushing some teams, but nobody was ever really happy with that.
When we didn’t accomplish that goal [of winning the national championship], those are the ones that stuck with us. We would ask ourselves, ‘What do we do in the summer to get better?’ That process, it was drawn out. Instead of one individual moment or an interview or a meeting, it was something that added up for us, and for me.
You successfully re-enacted your lacrosse-style goal from 1996 in the Score-O at a team reunion. Was that planned?
It was a little bit that it happened in the moment. Dad and 10 other firefighters came with me.
I brought guys from work, a lot of guys I worked with for years. It’s a wide range of guys who are full-on football guys or hockey guys, and some are guys who have never experienced anything like NCAA hockey, Division I hockey. I don’t talk about it much here; it wouldn’t do it justice. But sometimes I think, ‘I wish I could show them.’
We did the full weekend: two Michigan hockey games, a football game at Michigan, a Detroit Lions game, and it was a boys’ weekend.
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) October 22, 2016
But after I went to my seat after I made the shot, people started telling me, ‘It went viral!’ I’m not a computer guy, and I had no idea what ‘viral’ meant. But none of it was planned! I was asked to do something. There was talk that I was going to stand at the blue line and I was going to throw pucks at a piece of plywood with holes in it.
But I hadn’t taken that shot in years!