Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - Czech Republic - 1998 Olympic Games
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

Czech Republic - 1998 Olympic Games
Canada's Brendan Shanahan is stopped by Dominik Hasek of the Czech Republic during a shoot out  in the semifinal of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Canada's Brendan Shanahan is stopped by Dominik Hasek of the Czech Republic during a shoot out in the semifinal of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Photo by Jiri Kolis)
Going into the 1998 Olympic Winter Games, the first in which ice hockey teams were allowed to use professionals, pundits suggested that the gold medal came down to a four-horse race: Canada, the USA, Sweden and Russia. And the Russian team was severely hampered by internal politics that saw several of their highest profile stars refuse to join the Olympic squad.

Few gave the Czech Republic much of a chance of earning the gold medal, in spite of the fact that they iced a strong team, many who had earned an NHL pedigree. In goal, they had Dominik Hasek and Roman Cechmanek. The blueline included Roman Hamrlick, Richard Smehlik and Petr Svoboda. And the forwards included Josef Beranek, Milan Hejduk, Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Robert Reichel, Martin Rucinsky, Robert Straka and captain Vladimir Ruzicka.

Few would argue that the key to the success enjoyed by the Czech Republic in February 1998 came because of Dominik Hasek, who was at the zenith of his career at the time. That same season in the NHL, Hasek went on to record a league-best 13 shutouts on his way to an extraordinary year that saw him win the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender (he was awarded the Vezina a total of six times), was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team (also a six-time recipient) and was recipient of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player for a second consecutive season.

Dominik Hasek and Richard Smehlik of the Czech Republic celebrating a gold medal game win over Russia at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Dominik Hasek and Richard Smehlik of the Czech Republic celebrating a gold medal game win over Russia at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Photo by Jiri Kolis)
The Czech Republic surprised opponents. They shut out Finland 3-0 to start the tournament, then trampled Kazakhstan by an 8-2 count. Although edged 2-1 by Russia, the Czechs rebounded and beat the powerhouse Canadian team 2-1 in a game so close it took a flawless shootout to stun the Canadians out of gold medal contention and earn their nation a spot instead. "I am so happy I can't believe it," beamed Hasek. "We beat a great team -- maybe one of the best in the tournament -- but I felt we deserved to win."

And in the Olympic gold medal game, the Czech Republic shut out the Russians 1-0 to collect Olympic glory in 1998. "We all felt like heroes," stated Petr Svoboda. "We had a great team."

Hasek had an Olympic-best two shutouts, and a miniscule goals-against average of 0.97 to lead his team to the championship. He was named the tournament's best goaltender.

The team returned to the Czech Republic as conquering heroes. A parade in Prague attracted hundreds of thousands to celebrate the nation's hockey victory, and as Hasek stepped to the microphone, the throng erupted into such a huge ovation that it delayed his speech for several minutes.

Czech coach Slavomir Lener admitted that Dominik Hasek was the difference-maker. "From the beginning of the tournament, from the very first practice, we've had a sense of our mission and what Dominik Hasek means to us," he told Sports Illustrated. "From the very first shot, he has challenged every shooter. Suddenly, all the players realized that, 'Hey, we have to go for it.'"

The turning point of the tournament might easily have been the Czech Republic's shoot-out win over Team Canada, but candidly, it was the moment that Domink Hasek's name was officially added to the ice hockey roster of the Czech Republic's at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.