TORONTO - Corey Hirsch and the rest of his 1994 Canadian Olympic teammates were so focused on Swedish stars Mats Naslund and Hakan Loob that they didn't pay much attention to 20-year-old Peter Forsberg.
"He just kind of hid in the shadows of those guys," Hirsch said. "As far as us, Canadians, we didn't know much about him."
By the time Forsberg scored in the shootout to give Sweden the gold medal, he had put his stamp on hockey very early in a career that has led him to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Two years later Mike Modano helped the United States win the World Cup of Hockey, and then in 1998 Dominik Hasek willed the Czech Republic to gold at the Nagano Olympics.
On Monday night those three Canada killers go into the Hall of Fame together, along with the late Pat Burns, longtime Canadian defenceman Rob Blake and referee Bill McCreary. To Hirsch, it's no shock that this class excelled internationally at Canada's expense.
"That's why they're Hall of Famers because they've done everything and they've been able to succeed in high-pressure situations," Hirsch said by phone Friday. "That's what great players do. They do amazing things at opportune times."
Hasek's domination in Nagano was the most amazing. He shut out Finland earlier in the tournament and then blanked Russia for gold, but before that he took his place in Canadian hockey history.
After receiving his Hall of Fame ring Friday, Hasek said he and his teammates started to believe this was a special run after beating the U.S. in the quarters. Then Hasek shined as the Czechs pushed Canada to a shootout.
"I remember knowing that you had Dominik Hasek in the other net," said Blake, who was named the top defenceman in those Olympics. "There's no gimmes, we knew that going into the game, and then finally when you come down to kind of a one-on-one showdown and you got one of the greatest goalies to play at the other end, it makes it tough."
Before the shootout Hasek left his crease to ask McCreary if Wayne Gretzky was shooting.
"Once I told him I didn't know who was shooting, he went back into his net and as he always did, he stopped everybody," McCreary said.
As everyone knows now, Gretzky didn't shoot. Hasek stopped Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan.
"I probably saw him play the best that he could," Blake said.
Hasek said winning gold in Nagano was the top accomplishment of his career, slightly ahead of winning the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings.
"We won the gold medal, we flew with a charter our president sent for us and we came back to Prague and we spend one night in Prague and this night I will never, ever forget," Hasek said.
Hasek at that time was in the midst of arguably the best stretch of any goaltender in NHL history. Eleven years earlier at the 1987 Canada Cup, he showed the potential to grow into that.
"You realized how good he was then," said Canada's starter in that tournament, Grant Fuhr. "It's just he'd never had a chance to show it because the Czechs weren't going to beat the Russians and they couldn't beat us because both our teams just happened to be better teams overall."
Like Hasek in 1998, Forsberg helped Sweden dispel that at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. With the gold medal on the line, Hirsch did what he thought was his best to stop him in the shootout.
"As he took me to his left ??? my right ??? I really took everything away from him," Hirsch said. "I had him. I had him in the sense that he had nothing. The only thing he could do was what he did, and at that point in time was something that nobody had ever really seen before."
Forsberg went the other way with a move so memorable its image made it onto a stamp in Sweden.
"It was kind of a lucky shot, he was so close to saving it," Forsberg said. "I was fortunate to be on the better part of that shootout. Fantastic moment. First time Sweden ever won the Olympic gold. It was a great kick-start for me to come over to the NHL right after. For me it was a fantastic moment."
Patric Hornqvist of the Pittsburgh Penguins was 7 at the time but recognized the historical importance of Forsberg's goal.
"After that he became famous all over our country," Hornqvist said. "It jump-started his career. He was such a great player and great person. He really deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."
Modano didn't have a moment of his own to personally crush Canada. But he was a big part of the 1996 U.S. World Cup of Hockey team that came back to beat Canada to win the three-game final.
Canada won Game 1 in Philadelphia before the U.S. bounced back to win Games 2 and 3 in Montreal.
"You look at Canada's roster and it was the best guys Canada has ever put together in 20 years from top to bottom," Modano said. " Our backs were against the wall, it was two (games) in Montreal. Everything there was perfect."
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