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Czech Journeyman Gets First Goal

By David Ginsburg
Associated Press
Friday, February 20, 1998; 6:13 a.m. EST



NAGANO, Japan — The first goal was scored by a journeyman defenseman who rarely finds the back of the net.

The winning goal was virtually automatic.

Jiri Slegr and Robert Reichel were the only Czechs to get the puck past Canada goaltender Patrick Roy today, and that was enough offense to produce a 2-1 shootout victory and a berth in the Olympic gold-medal game.

Slegr, a 26-year-old reserve with the Pittsburgh Penguins, put the Czech Republic up 1-0 with 10:14 left in regulation with a blast from the left point after teammate Pavel Patera won a faceoff.

Given the way Roy and Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek were playing, it appeared that Slegr — who had scored just 19 goals in 258 NHL games — would be an unlikely hero.

"I'm not a goal-scorer, that's for sure,'' he said. "The goaltenders were stopping everything, so it was a great feeling. I thought that would be the only goal.''

But when Canada's Trevor Linden scored with 63 seconds remaining, it made Slegr a mere footnote in one of most exciting hockey duels in Olympic history.

After a 10-minute scoreless overtime, Reichel scored on the Czech Republic's first attempt in the shootout, and Hasek stopped all five Canada attempts to thrust the Czechs into Sunday's gold medal game.

And guess who didn't get a chance to take a shot in the shootout?

Slegr.

It didn't matter who shot after Reichel, who scored the only goal the Czechs needed.

"I never miss a penalty shot. I think I've made five or six,'' he said. "I was very confident, very relaxed. Funny, in practice I never score, but in games I always make it.''

Reichel, of the New York Islanders, knew exactly what he was going to do against Roy — then carried out the plan to perfection.

"My strategy is always the same — go fast and shoot the puck,'' he said. "There wasn't much room, so I tried to put the puck right inside the post.''

The shot clanged off the post and into the net. Hasek then did his part, and now the Czech Republic is in position to grab its first Olympic goal medal.

First, the Czechs rode a 38-save performance by Hasek to a 4-1 victory over the United States.

Now this.

"It's a great feeling when you beat the U.S. and Canada,'' Slegr said. "It doesn't matter if your name is Slegr or [Jaromir] Jagr, it doesn't matter who scores or who gets the credit. You play for your team.''

Martin Rucinsky, a star with the Montreal Canadiens, figured the joy of victory stretched all the way from Nagano to the Czech Republic.

"I only wish I could be in Prague,'' he said. "It's a great moment for Czech hockey. Everyone expected us to be out of it in the quarterfinals.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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