Montreal Canadiens: Looking Back at How Habs Performed at Previous Winter Olympics

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23: Carey Price #31. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 23: Carey Price #31. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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15 Feb 1998: Martin Rucinsky of Czech Republic in Nagano, Japan. \ Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
15 Feb 1998: Martin Rucinsky of Czech Republic in Nagano, Japan. \ Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport /

1998: Nagano, Japan

The Nagano Olympics were the first time we got to see NHL players representing their country on the World’s biggest stage. It went about as far from planned as it possibly could have. While Canada was the favourite, and the Americans were supposed to do well after winning the World Cup of Hockey just two years earlier, neither North American team made the gold medal game.

There were four Canadiens players on a roster with Shayne Corson and Mark Recchi playing for Canada, Martin Rucinsky suiting up for Czech Republic and Saku Koivu joining a pretty solid Finland team. While Corson and Recchi were on a heavily favoured team, they were the two Habs players that didn’t earn a medal.

Shayne Corson

Corson was a bit of a surprising addition to a team representing Canada but he had a really good 1997-98 season for the Habs. He played 62 games for the Canadiens that season and scored 21 goals and 55 points. While he wasn’t one of the nation’s best scoring players at the time, he was asked to play a defensive style as a depth piece up front.

Corson played all six games for Canada in Nagano and scored one goal and added an assist. Canada somewhat infamously lost the semi-final in a shootout to Czech Republic with Dominik Hasek stopping all five shooters. Corson was not among the shooters.

Saku Koivu

Koivu had a number of chances to represent his country before Nagano and he played well for them, but he was one of the best players at the 1998 Olympic Games. He had played at two World Juniors and scored nine points in seven games both times. He scored seven points in eight games at the 1994 Olympic Games before he moved to North America to play for Montreal. He had played in the three previous World Championships and scored 25 points in 22 games.

At the Olympics in Nagano, he immediately clicked with Teemu Selanne and was dominant at the event. Koivu scored two goals and eight assists which put him in a tie for first in scoring at the event with his linemate, Teemu. In the bronze medal game, Koivu set up Finland’s second goal and early in the third period he set up the game’s winning goal to lead his country onto the podium.

If Dominik Hasek had allowed more than six goals in six games, Koivu would have been a serious candidate for MVP. If it weren’t for Pavel Bure going off for five goals in the semi-finals, Koivu would have been playing for gold in 1998.

Mark Recchi

Recchi was a high scoring winger for the Habs when Nagano rolled around. He was named to the team because he scored 34 goals and 80 points the season prior and was working on a 32 goal and 74 point season that was interrupted by the Nagano Olympics.

Recchi had limited experience wearing the red and white Canada jersey, but he did score five points in seven games in the World Juniors way back in 1988 and had 13 points in 17 games over two World Championship appearances.

While Canada brought bigger stars like Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, it was apparent that Recchi was brought to Japan because of his offence. It was disappointing then, that he didn’t score a goal and had just two assists in five games as Canada lost the bronze medal game and came home without a medal.

Martin Rucinsky

Based on the statistics of the four Habs that played at Nagano, you could easily create an argument that the least was expected of Rucinsky out of the quartet. He had a solid 28 goals and 55 points the year before the Olympics and would score 21 goals and 53 points in the 1997-98 campaign. Those aren’t bad numbers, but they did come in behind Recchi, Corson and Koivu.

Still, it was Rucinsky that would come home with bragging rights over his Habs teammates. Most of his points came against Kazakhstan in the preliminary round, but Ruckinsky scored late in the second period of the quarterfinal game to give Czech Republic a 3-1 lead. That was more than enough for Hasek who would allow one more goal the rest of the tournament.

Rucinsky had three goals and an assist in six games for Czech Republic. Though all but one goal came against Kazakhstan, he did win a gold medal that he can thank Hasek for.