Of Dominik Hasek‘s decorated hockey career in Buffalo, he remembers one moment above the rest.
“There is one situation I will never forget in my life, when we won in the Olympics in 1998 with the Czech national team [in Nagano],” Hasek told media in Buffalo on Tuesday, hours before his No. 39 jersey number would be retired. “We came here back to Buffalo. I knew that people were maybe cheering for us, but this was something I would never, ever expect, to come to the airport and there were thousands of people waiting for me and [Czech and Buffalo Sabres teammate] Richard Smehlik. There were people in our neighborhood when I was coming home. Then the special evening the next day with Toronto Maple Leafs when they sang the Czech national anthem.”
Hasek’s memory is spot on. The reception in Buffalo following the 1998 gold medal was surpassed perhaps only in Prague, where Hasek estimated between 100,000 and 300,000 people celebrated in the streets.
“It probably was the biggest event since 1989 during the Revolution,” Hasek told the Buffalo News in 1998.
The Czech national anthem joined the traditional Canadian and U.S. anthems before the Sabres’ first home game after the Olympics against the Maple Leafs.
Hasek deserved all the praise. He put up one of the most dominating goalie performances in hockey history in Nagano. He reportedly stopped 149 of 155 shots in six games for a .961 save percentage. The best save percentage for any goalie over an NHL season is .941.
Hasek held the U.S. to one goal in the quarterfinals, Canada to one goal in the semifinals and blanked Russia in the final. In the semis, he stopped all five Canadian shootout attempts, from All-Stars Theoren Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan.
Hasek made his Olympic debut for Czechoslovakia in 1988 and also played in the 2002 and 2006 Olympics for the Czechs, winning bronze in 2006 despite barely playing due to injury.