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Czechs Win Hockey Gold

February 22, 1998

NAGANO, Japan (AP) _ In 16 previous Olympic hockey tournaments, the Czechs never won a gold medal. Now, they’re the best of the best.

Petr Svoboda scored with 11:52 to play and Dominik Hasek remained impregnable in goal as the Czech Republic defeated Russia 1-0 Sunday to win the first Olympic hockey competition featuring NHL players.

The Czechs (5-1) got to the gold-medal game by defeating the United States 4-1 in the quarterfinals and Canada 2-1 in a semifinal shootout; those teams were co-favorites coming into the tournament.

Then, the Czech Republic avenged its only loss _ 2-1 to Russia in round-robin play _ by beating the only remaining undefeated team.

Before Czechoslovakia split, it won four silver medals and three bronzes but could never get the gold.

So when it did, the celebration was wild and heartfelt, with gloves, sticks and helmets hoisted into the air, Hasek mobbed at the net and a huge Czech Republic flag unfurled and held over all the players’ heads.

The Soviet Union, which counted Russia as its dominant republic before it divided, often stood in the Czechs’ way over the years. The Soviets won 10 gold medals in 12 Olympics between 1956 and 1992, and Russia was looking to recapture that dominance this year.

But the Russians (5-1) had trouble getting through Svoboda and the rest of the Czech defense to put much pressure on Hasek, who had to make only a few difficult saves.

Hasek faced only 20 shots _ a nice break for last season’s NHL most valuable player, who had to stop five penalty shots during the post-overtime shootout against Canada.

Hasek, the league’s three-time goalie of the year with the Buffalo Sabres, allowed only six goals in six Olympic games. After winning his personal battle with Canada’s Patrick Roy and going on to win the gold medal, he has staked a solid claim as best goaltender in the world.

Mikhail Shtalenkov, who helped the Russian-dominated Unified Team of Soviet republics win the 1992 gold medal, matched Hasek save-for-save until the 8:08 mark of the third period.

That’s when Pavel Patera beat Alexei Yashin on a faceoff, Martin Prochazka got the puck to Svoboda at the left point, and Svoboda beat Shtalenkov with a rising slap shot. Now with Philadelphia, Svoboda is in his 15th NHL season and has only 50 goals in 864 career games.

Despite the loss, it was a successful Olympics for Russia, which wasn’t expected to win a medal because several of its top players decided not to participate for political or personal reasons. Among the missing: Nikolai Khabibulin, Alexander Mogilny, Igor Larionov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov, Oleg Tverdovsky, Vladimir Malakhov and Sergei Zubov.

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