Czechs, Canada face off in high stakes hockey

By Beth Harris Associated Press Published:

NAGANO, Japan _ Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy crouch, stand or sprawl, back into the net or play way out of the crease, whatever it takes to stop the puck.

They're the world's best goaltenders, and both are in peak form heading into the most riveting individual showdown of the Olympic hockey tournament.

Roy leads undefeated Canada against Hasek's Czech Republic team (3-1) in Friday's semifinals, while Finland (2-2) plays Russia (4-0). The winners advance to Sunday's gold-medal game; the losers play Saturday for the bronze.

Both Canada and the Czech Republic are gold-starved.

The Canadians haven't won the Olympics since 1952, settling for silver after a thrilling shootout loss to Sweden at the 1994 games. The former Czechoslovakia won four silver medals, but never gold.

Hasek and Roy are out to change that.

"Either of them can win a game," Canada's Mark Recchi said.

Both goalies are 32 and left-handed. That's where their similarities end.

Hasek's unusual style involves rolling around on the ice, legs splayed, arms flying, until the puck hits him.

"Dominik relies on his quickness and he's unorthodox," said Canada's Joe Sakic, who won't play Friday because of a left knee injury.

Hasek is self-taught. There were no goaltending coaches in Czechoslovakia, not that he believes in them anyway. As a youngster, the only thing he was told was to keep his stick on the ice.

Roy, on the other hand, is less flashy. Behind his mask, he talks to himself in either English or his native French.

"He's the best I've seen in anticipating. Mentally, you're not going to beat Roy," said Sakic of his teammate on the NHL's Colorado Avalanche.

"I try to concentrate and not let my emotion go," Roy said. "Any big saves or a goal, you have to stay the same. I always think about making the next save."

The Hasek-Roy rivalry began in the NHL, where they've faced each other nine times as starters during the regular season.

Hasek is 4-2-3 in those games, with three shutouts and a 1.84 goals-against average for the Buffalo Sabres. Roy has one shutout and a 2.07 goals-against mark.

But Roy is slightly better in Nagano.

Playing his first international tournament, he's helped Canada to four consecutive wins, including a 30-save performance against the United States. His average of one goal per game is tops among the four remaining goalies.

Hasek is 3-1 in the Olympics, with a 1.25 goals-against mark and a .955 save percentage, stopping 105 of 110 shots. He stopped 38 shots in a 4-1 quarterfinal win over the United States.

"Some of the saves he made were unbelievable," Czech captain Vladimir Ruzicka said. "I've never seen a better goalie. His legs were going over here, his hands were going over there."

Befitting their status as the NHL's best, Hasek and Roy have dominated the league's awards in recent years.

They're both three-time winners of the Vezina Trophy for goaltending. Last season, Hasek was the league's most valuable player. Roy is a three-time Stanley Cup winner and twice MVP of the playoffs.

"I would not trade my Stanley Cup for a gold medal, but I'd love to add a gold medal," Roy said.

Both are equally talented, but Hasek may have an edge over Roy on the bigger international ice surface. Roy has spent his career on the 3,000-square-foot smaller North American rinks.

"There's a good difference, especially on the angle since a guy is further away," Roy said. "On the power play, it takes more time for players to get in front of the net. I thought it would be more crowded in front of our net."

The impact of Hasek and Roy could be lessened if either side minimizes the other's scoring chances.

"It's very important to get traffic in front of him, but in the bigger rink, it's more difficult because you're so spread out," Canada's Kevin Stevens said of Hasek.

"They're two of the best goalies in the game and they're both on their game right now," Canada's Brendan Shanahan said. "It should be a real challenge for the goal-scorers on both sides."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.