Canada suffers déjà vu in shootout loss to Czechs

Canadians drop preliminary game nearly 20 years after 1998 Olympic semifinal upset

Canada suffers déjà vu in shootout loss to Czechs
Canada defenceman Maxim Noreau (56) reacts after being stopped by Czech Republic goaltender Pavel Francouz (33) in the men’s Olympic hockey shootout. The Czechs went on to beat Canada and take the lead in Group A. © Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

By Tim Wharnsby, CBC Sports

The names were different and the stakes were higher in 1998, but after the Canadian men's Olympic hockey team lost yet another shootout to the Czech Republic, it was only natural to have a Dominik Hasek flashback on Saturday in Pyeongchang.

Do you need a refresher as to what happened to Canada in its semifinal against the Czech Republic at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano?

Hasek was all-world. For 58-plus minutes he foiled one of the most talented rosters in Olympic history.

Jiri Slegr put the Czechs up 1-0 midway earlier in the third period. But Trevor Linden gave Canada some life when he managed to beat Hasek with 63 seconds remaining in regulation time. After overtime settled nothing, it was off to a shootout.

Marc Crawford and the Canadian coaching staff decided to leave Wayne Gretzky on the bench for the five-round shootout. Hasek was unbeatable. First Theo Fleury was stopped. Meanwhile, Robert Reichel fired a shot past Canadian goalie Patrick Roy after Fleury's leadoff attempt.

Then Raymond Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and finally Brendan Shanahan failed to score in their attempts. Hasek jumped for joy after he stopped Shanahan's backhand. Gretzky sat on the bench for a long time afterward, watching the Czechs celebrate as his only chance at Olympic gold was snuffed out.

Two days later, Hasek was on his game again. He blanked Russia 1-0 and the Czechs won gold. It was a wild and memorable party when Hasek and his teammates returned to the Old Town Square in Prague to celebrate.

Déjà vu

When the Canadians and the Czechs met up again in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in their exciting and dramatic 3-2 win by the latter, it was Pavel Francouz who played the role of Hasek, two days shy of the 20th anniversary of that semifinal upset.

Francouz is a 27-year-old goalie who was never drafted by a NHL team but who is tied for the best save percentage in the KHL this season with Lars Johansson at .945.

Francouz didn't have to be as dazzling as Hasek was 20 years ago. The former made 31 saves before the shootout. He even surrendered a goal in the shootout on Canada's second attempt from Wojtek Wolski.

But he stopped the other four shooters: Max Lapierre, Derek Roy, Rene Bourque and Maxim Noreau.

Actually, just like Lindros had beat Hasek with a backhand that glanced off the crossbar 20 years ago, Noreau beat his man. But his backhand slipped through Francouz's pads, only to hit the far post.

Ben Scrivens was just as good in Canada's goal. He was fortunate to have Jiri Sekac hit the crossbar with 65 seconds remaining in regulation time. Francouz was just as lucky to watch Canadian defenceman Mat Robinson lose the puck on a breakaway in overtime after he was slashed in the right elbow by an in-pursuit Petr Koukal.

"It rolled off my stick when I tried to pull the puck back to my forehand," Robinson said. "Like I said, we didn't get the bounces tonight. Hopefully, we'll get the bounces later in the tournament."

The Canadians never trailed in this game. They enjoyed 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first period. But the pesky Czechs found a way to tie the game twice with their second goal from Michal Jordan arriving in the opening minute of the second period.

So what does the shootout loss mean for the Canadians? They likely will have to play an extra game in the qualification round on Tuesday instead of advancing straight to the quarter-finals.

The three group winners, plus the team with the next-best record automatically advance to the quarter-finals.

Canada, however, still has a shot at a bye to the quarter-finals. But it will need to defeat South Korea in regulation, and Switzerland to upset the Czechs in any fashion on Sunday.

The Canadians also could advance directly to the quarter-finals if they defeat South Korea to improve to 2-0-1 for seven points and that record holds up as the fourth best after the preliminary round.