These Games marked the first time NHL players were allowed to compete in the tournament. Surprise winners of the two preliminary round groups were Belarus and Kazakhstan, two former republics of the Soviet Union. Neither team however earned any victories in the final round. Buffalo Sabres star Dominik Hasek solidified his place as the world's top netminder by leading the Czech Republic to a surprise gold medal.
Since they had only 11 NHL players on their roster, the Czechs were rated no better than sixth in the 14-team competition. Hasek quickly enhanced that ranking by shutting out Finland 1-0 on opening day, beating the World Cup champion United States 4-1 in the quarterfinals and performing miracles in a 2-1 shoot-out upset of pre-tournament favourite Canada in the semifinals.
Then with the gold medal on the line, Hasek blanked Russia 1-0 sending fans back home in Prague into hysterics. Defenseman Petr Svoboda scored the only goal of the game in the third period. Russia, which defeated the Czechs 2-1 earlier in the tournament, wound up with the silver medal and Finland surprised Canada 3-2 behind the standout goaltending of third-stringer Ari Sulander to win the bronze.
The gold-medalists' victory over Canada was particularly memorable. Czech defenseman Jiri Slegr broke open a scoreless tie with a goal midway through the third period. Trevor Linden tied the score for Canada late in the game to force overtime. When both teams failed to score in a 10-minute extra period, a shoot-out followed. Robert Reichel of the Czech Republic was the only player to score. Hasek stopped five of the NHL's best players - Theoren Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan.