International Ice Hockey Federation

Asterix: The Hockey Way

Asterix: The Hockey Way

Czechs made soothsayers look silly in Nagano!

Published 25.04.2017 15:10 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Asterix: The Hockey Way
Czech fans got to have a good laugh after the experts failed to predict their team would win the first "NHL Olympics" in 1998. Photos: Editions Albert René, IIHF Archives
You can’t always trust what the experts say. Just like Asterix and Obelix scorn a soothsayer, the Czechs ignored predictions and won the 1998 Olympic gold!

Leading up to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, we’re dedicating one article to each day of the tournament, making a tongue-in-cheek comparison between an Asterix comic book and famous aspects of international hockey history.

After the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, anticipation ran high for the first “NHL Olympics” in Nagano, Japan in 1998, but nobody predicted the Czechs would win it all. As longtime Czech hockey writer Pavel Barta put it: “To many observers, they seemed to be too small and too soft. Their defence was considered weak. They also had only eleven NHL players on their roster.”

In Asterix and the Soothsayer, a soothsayer – a professional forecaster of events – comes to the Gaulish village and makes dramatic predictions that both charm and scare Asterix and Obelix’s neighbours. Normally, Chief Vitalstatistix only fears the sky will fall on his head. But if he was a Czech fan before the ‘98 Winter Games, he’d have been more worried about something like a seventh-place finish!

Those who read the entrails in the North American media couldn’t foresee what was coming. For instance, the day before the Games started, four writers for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, gave their medal picks. None chose the Czechs for gold. In fact, only one, David Shoalts, had the Czechs medaling, and he predicted bronze!

There was also overconfidence among North American stars after the United States had edged Canada in the 1996 World Cup of Hockey final. U.S. forward Keith Tkachuk told the Arizona Republic: “All I know is we're supposed to win the gold again – and we will, in my opinion.” Asked to compare Canada and the Americans in a New York Times interview, Canadian captain Eric Lindros said: “It’s neck and neck for who can be the best country in the world.”

But when the “Tournament of the Century” got underway, these prognostications smelled as bad as the fishmonger Unhygienix’s shop! Under the great coach Ivan Hlinka, the Czechs took the same attitude toward doubters as Asterix: “The best thing to do would be to laugh it off.”

Thanks to the mind-blowing goaltending of Dominik Hasek, the Czechs downed the U.S. 4-1 in the quarter-final. Their left-wing lock style also kept it tight in the famous semi-final against Canada.

Tied 1-1 after overtime on goals by Jiri Slegr and Trevor Linden, the teams went to a shootout. Robert Reichel was the lone Czech skater to beat Canada’s Patrick Roy. Meanwhile, with Wayne Gretzky infamously sitting on the bench, Canadian coach Marc Crawford chose Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros, and Brendan Shanahan to test Hasek. None could solve “The Dominator,” then in his Hart and Vezina Trophy-winning prime with the Buffalo Sabres. Canadian fans were as disappointed as the Roman centurion to whom the soothsayer promises dancing girls and preserved pigs’ ears!

The Czechs celebrated even more wildly after Hasek blanked the Pavel Bure-led Russians 1-0 in the gold medal game. It was the start of the golden era of Czech hockey that endured through three straight IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship titles (1999-2001). Nobody predicted that either, by Belenos!

This is a 17-part series prior to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, of which Asterix and Obelix are the official mascots. Click on News to find the stories.


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