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

Czech Republic - 1998 Olympic Games

16 APRIL 2013
Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic in action at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan
Jaromir Jagr of the Czech Republic in action at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan (Photo by Jiri Kolis)
It was a momentous occasion when the International Olympic Committee announced that professional hockey players would be allowed to participate for the first time in the 1998 Olympic Winter Games to be hosted by Nagano, Japan. There had been major dissention through the years over the definition of 'amateur,' many suggesting that some countries were employing 'sham-ateurs.' By allowing the very best to compete against the very best put all countries on equal grounding.

Robert Reichel of the Czech Republic scores the game-winning goal in a shoot-out against Canada's Patrick Roy during semifinal action at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Robert Reichel of the Czech Republic scores the game-winning goal in a shoot-out against Canada's Patrick Roy during semifinal action at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (IIHF)
As expected, the tournament featured a who's who of National Hockey League stars. Canada, the United States and Sweden were heavily favoured to dominate the Olympic Games in hockey. Unfortunately for Russia, their hockey program had been struggling with internal problems, and many players expected to participate chose not to, including Vyacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov and Alexander Mogilny.

Canada easily won its group, winning all three of its games, scoring 12 goals and allowing just 3. Sweden was second with two wins and a loss and the United States finished with a disappointing record of one win against two losses.

Jiri Slegr of the Czech Republic jumps on teammate Dominik Hasek following a gold medal game win over Russia at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
Jiri Slegr of the Czech Republic jumps on teammate Dominik Hasek following a gold medal game win over Russia at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Photo by Jiri Kolis)
Meanwhile, Russia won each of its three games in its grouping, with the Czech Republic winning two and Finland one.

Czech Republic head coach Ivan Hlinka along with players Robert Reichel (L) and Jaromir Jagr celebrating a gold medal win at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan during a rally in the Czech Republic.
Czech Republic head coach Ivan Hlinka along with players Robert Reichel (L) and Jaromir Jagr celebrating a gold medal win at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan during a rally in the Czech Republic.
(Ivan Hlinka Family/IIHF)
In the quarter-finals, Canada dusted Kazakhstan and the Czech Republic dumped the United States by the same 4-1 score. And Finland edged Sweden 2-1 while Russia beat Belarus 4-1.

The semi-final saw Russia eliminate Finland from gold medal contention by a 7-4 count, with Pavel Bure scoring five of his team's goals. Meanwhile, Canada faced the Czech Republic in an exciting game that was deadlocked at one-apiece at the end of regulation. After two scoreless periods, Jiri Slegr gave the Czechs a 1-0 lead in the third, but Canada came back to tie the game with 63 seconds remaining when Trevor Linden scored to force a ten-minute overtime. Dominik Hasek for the Czechs and Patrick Roy for Canada were exceptional in goal, and needed to be as they moved into a shoot-out.

Canada went first, and Theo Fleury was foiled by Hasek. Robert Reichel was the first shooter for the Czech Republic, and found the back of the net behind Patrick Roy. Canadian Ray Bourque had his attempt saved by Hasek while Roy out-guessed Martin Rucinsky. Joe Nieuwendyk and Pavel Patera, for Canada and the Czech Republic respectively, both failed to score in their attempts. Eric Lindros, captain of Team Canada, bore down on Hasek at full speed, made a move to his backhand and caught Hasek leaning the wrong way, but as Lindros attempted to score, the acrobatic Czech netminder got his stick down and steered Lindros's shot away, hitting the post and avoiding a goal. Up next was Jaromir Jagr, who fired a hard wrist shot that clanged off the post. Brendan Shanahan, Canada's last chance, made his move but was beaten by Dominik Hasek, giving the Czechs the victory and the right to compete for the Olympic gold medal. Robert Reichel's goal stood as the winner. Few who watched the game will soon forget a forlorn Wayne Gretzky, seated on the bench having been passed over for the shoot-out by Canadian coach, Marc Crawford. "Words can't even describe how bad I feel," Gretzky said after the game. "I guess a gold medal wasn't in the cards for my career." Marc Crawford admitted, "We're not pleased with finishing fourth. No Canadian is ever pleased with finishing fourth."

The Czech Republic captured the gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
The Czech Republic captured the gold medal at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. (Photo by Jiri Kolis)
The bronze medal game saw Finland defeat Canada 3-2 on February 21, 1998, sending the confident Canadians home without a medal to show for their efforts. Ville Peltonen, one of nine non-NHL players on the roster for Finland, scored the winning goal just 17 seconds into the third period. "We came in as underdogs. We fought through," said Esa Tikkanen. "I was so excited, I can't describe it. It was like winning the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers."

The next day, the Czech Republic and Russia were showcased in the Olympic gold medal contest at Nagano's Big Hat Arena, with Hasek again the hero, earning a shutout in a tight 1-0 win. Petr Svoboda scored the lone goal, a tally in the third. "I got lucky," he admitted. "The guys gave me time to look and it just went through."

It was an unexpected win for the Czech Republic, who, even though they iced a strong team rife with NHL players, had still been considered an underdog going into the Olympic tournament. Canada, the United States and Sweden, all predicted to skate away with Olympic medals, all returned home empty-handed. "It was a great feeling to beat Canada and the United States," stated Jiri Slegr. "It was a great day for all of us and the country."


Team Czech Republic jersey worn by Martin Rucinsky during the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.
 
Stick used by Petr Svoboda of the Czech Republic to score the game winning goal against Russia in the gold medal game at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

Ice Hockey ticket for the Men's Final of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

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