Wednesday, February 22, 2012
The Olympic hockey tournament changed like never before in 1998 when the professional players of the National Hockey League were allowed to compete in the Olympic hockey tournament for the first time ever. Prior to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, paid professional players were allowed to participate, but with the Olympic games taking place in February, the highest caliber players were far too busy with their ongoing NHL seasons to even dream of taking part in any of the previous Olympics.
Our first video today is the shootout between Canada and the Czech Republic in the semifinals, highlighting the sprawling, twisting, unorthodox style used by Hasek to full effect.
Starting in 1920, the Olympic gold medal was essentially the property of Canada, winning 6 out of 7 possible gold medals through 1952. With the arrival of the Soviet Union on the scene in 1956, the balance of power was radically changed. Through 1992, when the Soviet trained players skated together one final time as the Unified Team, the Soviets won 8 to of 10 golds, with only the Americans winning twice on home soil preventing a clean sweep over the course of 4 decades. Sweden took the gold in 1994 over Canada, but the form charts needed to be thrown away with the sudden availability of the stars of the NHL, who were now going to be on hand for the first time since their formative years, if not the first time ever for some. With the NHL season on hold, interest in the tournament was tremendous.
The tournament began with Kazakhstan winning Group A and Belarus taking Group B, with the two former Soviet states advancing to the First Round at the expense of Slovakia, Italy, Austria, Germany, France and Japan, whose tournaments were now over after just three games.
The tournament format now called for two groups of four teams to play each of the three teams in their group once each to determine their seeings when they all would advance to face an opponent from the opposite group in the single elimination Final Round playoffs.
Kazakhstan was placed in Group D along with the Czech Republic, Finland and Russia, who were all placed into the First Round directly based on their IIHF world ranking prior to the tournament, the same as Canada, Sweden and the United States in Group C, who were joined by Belarus.
In Group C, Canada finished first with a perfect 3-0 record to give them hope of returning to the top place on the medal stand for the first time since 1952 now that the controversy between their best amateurs versus the Soviet "amateurs" had now been finally removed, leveling the playing field on the Olympic stage for the first time in decades.
Canada's opponent as the first seed in Group C was the fourth place finisher in Group D, Kazakhstan. Sweden finished second thanks to a 4-2 win over the Americans, which paired them with Finland in the quarterfinals.
Group D winning Russia drew overmatched Belarus from Group C, while the Czech Republic's second place in Group D saw it paired with the United States.
Group winners Canada and Russia held serve with a pair of easy 4-1 wins over Kazakhstan and Belarus, as expected, while the under achieving United States ran afoul of the Czech Republic, also by a 4-1 score in favor of the higher seeded club. The only upset in terms of seeding came with Finland's exciting 2-1 defeat of Nordic rivals Sweden in a tense game that was scoreless after two periods.
The parings for the semifinals saw Canada drawing the Czech Republic. The Canadians were armed with some of the finest firepower in all of the world, including forwards Wayne Gretzky, Theo Fleury, Paul Kariya, Eric Lindros, Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman, boasted a defensive hall of fame with Rob Blake, Ray Bourque, Al MacInnis, Chris Pronger and Scott Stevens, with the legendary Patrick Roy in goal. Amazingly, the Canadian team General Manager Bobby Clarke chose Rob Zamuner over Mark Messier, who was not even on the Canadian roster, and Lindros as captain rather than Gretzky, Bourque or Yzerman!
Going into their game against Canada, the Czechs had won three and lost one, but goaltender Dominik Hasek was in top form, having surrendered only 5 goals in 4 games, with their only loss being a 2-1 decision to Russia in the First Round.
The Czech Republic losing to Russia 2-1 in Group D play
The first two periods passed without a goal by either side, as Roy and Hasek traded saves. Finally halfway through the third period, Jiri Slegr beat Roy with an assist from the veteran Pavel Patera. The Canadians pressed hard for the equalizer, but the Czech defensive system stood tall and Hasek took care of the rest as time would down. Finally with just 1:03 remaining in the game, Trevor Linden solved Hasek with an assist from Lindros.
Following a scoreless overtime, the game went to a shootout to determine who would advance to the gold medal final. Fleury, Bourque, Nieuwendyk, Lindros and Shanahan were all stopped by the on-form Hasek, while Robert Reichel's opening goal in off the pipe proved to be enough to win the game for the Czechs.
Hasek stops Shanahan to seal the victory for the Czech Republic
Russia advanced to face their long-time rivals with a dominant 7-4 win over Finland to set up a rematch of their earlier game in the First Round, won by the Russians 2-1.
The championship final, held on this date in 1998, was a predictably low scoring affair, as each team looked to exploit any mistakes by their opponent, while both teams kept their game simple and looked to avoid any unnecessary mistakes. Just like in their first meeting, the opening period passed with no scoring and moved onto the second.
Action from the second meeting between Russia and
the Czech Republic, only this time for the gold medal
Again, Hasek in goal for the Czechs and Mikhail Stalenkov stood tall in goal for the Russians as both teams failed to solve the other. As the game approached the midway point of the third period, a faceoff took place in the Russian zone to the right of Stalenkov. Martin Prochazka won the draw back to his winger Patera, who simply slid the puck back to Petr Svoboda on the point, who teed up the puck and fired it on goal, It passed through the tangle of traffic still hooked up following the faceoff and flew past Stalenkov and into the net for a 1-0 Czech Republic lead with still 11:52 remaining.
Hasek holding off the Russian attack
The goal was enough for Hasek however, as he and his teammates finished off the shutout to capture the first gold medal of the full participation Olympic hockey tournament, making Hasek a household name around the world and Svoboda an instant and unlikely hero in his home country, as in 1,028 NHL games, the defensive defenseman only scored 58 goals, less than 3 1/2 per season, with a career high of 8.
A delighted Hasek shows off his gold medal
Today's featured jersey is a 1998 Czech Republic Domink Hasek jersey as worn during the gold medal final during which he shutout the Russians, who boasted a roster of offensive stars the likes of Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov, Sergei Gonchar, Valeri Kamensky, Alexei Morozov, Alexi Yashin and Alexei Zhamnov.
Hasek would finish the Olympic tournament with six games played, five wins and just 6 goals allowed on his way to the gold medal as well as being named the Best Goaltender of the tournament.
While he was in the middle of a stellar NHL career, with Vezina Trophies having already been won in 1994, 1995 and 1997, his performance at the Olympics raised his awareness level well beyond that of the average hockey fan. He would continue his run of form for several more seasons, winning the Vezina again at the conclusion of the 1997-98 NHL season, along with his second consecutive Hart Trophy as league MVP, and again in 1999 and 2001, with Stanley Cup victories following in 2002 and 2007.
Hasek poses with his Vezina and Hart trophies in 1998,
just months after winning Olympic gold
This style of jersey was first introduced for the 1998 Olympics by Nike, who produced new uniforms for each of the participating teams in that year's Olympics, rather than the modern approach of creating one basic design template and simply recoloring it for each country. The Czech Republic jerseys, while somewhat similar to Canada and Belarus, with it's arched striping from the collar to the armpits, employed a unique font for the numbers as well as the bold color blocks inspired by the flag of the Czech Republic to set it apart from the other, but left no doubt as to who it belonged to with the ultra bold CZECH emblazoned across the lower back!
This next video contains extended highlights from the goal medal final, won by Hasek and the Czech Repbulic 1-0 over Russia.