GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Pavel Francouz never played in the NHL, let alone won six Vezina Trophies.
Yet Francouz is following in the Olympic footsteps of legendary countryman Dominik Hasek.
Twenty years after the “Dominator” stopped all five shooters to eliminate Canada on the way to the Czech Republic winning gold in Nagano, the little-known goaltender teammates call “Francik” stopped all five to beat the United States and put his country into the semifinals for the first time since 2006. As a Czech reporter said, Francouz hasn’t earned “Dominator” status — yet.
He’s well on his way. Asked if Francouz is the new Hasek, shootout scorer Petr Koukal smiled and said yes.
“He just saved with right hand,” he said. “I thinking it’s all teams, to win the tournament without a good goalkeeper, it’s really hard and I hope it’s continue for him.”
Francouz has his glove on his right hand, which is uncommon among goaltenders. The left-handed-catching Hasek said this team reminds him of his group that won gold in Nagano, and of course he was watching when Francouz stopped all five U.S. shooters but never had a flashback to 1998.
“Not at all. I was so focused on this shootout,” Hasek said by phone. “You are looking at what’s going on TV. I didn’t even think about what happened 20 years ago at the time.”
Francouz did to Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Troy Terry and Bobby Butler what the Hockey Hall of Famer did to Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan that is still remembered as the shootout Canada coach Marc Crawford didn’t use Wayne Gretzky.
Yes, Chris Bourque was eliminated in a shootout at the Olympics by a Czech goaltender just like his father was in 1998.
Ray Bourque, who’s in the Hall of Fame with Hasek, was in the stands for this one, and said he passed on to Chris a message he got from a friend who trained him and was his high-school gym teacher before going to Nagano. He also told Chris — who was 12 at the time — how disappointing it was to go to the Olympics and come back empty-handed.
Francouz, a 27-year-old who has a 1.83 goals-against average and .945 save percentage for Traktor Chelyabinsk in the Kontinental Hockey League didn’t have to be as acrobatic as Hasek was throughout his career, even saying he felt like he was lucky at times in the shootout win.
Hasek pointed out that the 27-year-old has now won two shootouts at these Olympics, stopping nine of 10 shots in beating Canada and the U.S. Like Hasek against Canada in Nagano, Francouz saved his best performance for an elimination game.
“He was good,” Hasek said. “Sometimes he made great saves, sometimes the American player, he didn’t have enough time to put it up above his pad. Maybe once or twice he wasn’t in the best position, however they were not skilled enough to put it over his pad. So he made the right decision, Pavel, and he made the saves.”
Hasek said the victory is the biggest story back home and the whole nation will watch when the Czech Republic faces the Russians in the semifinals on Friday. Francouz thinks he and his teammates are ready.
“It was our dream before the tournament to go that far, but I really hope it’s not the end,” Francouz said. “We can go farther if we keep playing like this. We’re playing really good as a team. We’re blocking shots. The guys are helping me, too. We didn’t play any easy game in the tournament, so I think it’s making us more and more strong.”
The Czechs played a strong game against the U.S. but is still alive at the Olympics because of Francouz, who has stopped 88 of 94 shots beyond his shootout heroics. Those were impressive, too.
“He’s playing awesome and this was just a cherry on the top,” captain and 2006 bronze medalist Martin Erat said. “We got still two games to go, but we know we have him and that’s the most important.”