March 28, 2018 | 11:30am ET
BY Hannah Spraker, The Fourth Period
FIVE RINGS FILMS – THE NAGANO TAPES
TORONTO, ON -- Nagano, Japan, 1998. The Olympic Winter Games saw an underdog story that no one expected, and no one would ever forget. The Olympic Channel and Five Rings Films have brought that story back to life in The Nagano Tapes; but before diving into the story of the Czech Men’s Ice Hockey team and their story, we should go back in time a bit further.
Czechoslovakia was under communist rule until 1989, when communism collapsed and reform began. Before then, Czechoslovakia was behind the Iron Curtain set up by the Soviet Union, with no connections to the Western world, unless you were an NHL player over the age of 30 or in the armed forces. The dissolution of Czechoslovakia happened on January 1, 1993, which formed two separate independent states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These reforms allowed for the door to the Western world to swing open and many young Czech hockey players looked to find their future in the NHL.
The Year of 1993 was also a big year for the NHL and Western hockey, as this was the year that Gary Bettman took over as NHL Commissioner, coming from a background with the NBA. Bettman, ironically, was pushing for NHL players participating in the Winter Games in 1998, in efforts to grow the game and promote the NHL worldwide by getting more exposure. This would be the first time that the world saw the best of the best competing on an international stage in hockey, and I think we all recall what went down on that stage.
Produced exclusively for the Olympic Channel by world renowned Hollywood producer Frank Marshall, who also produced films such as Seabiscuit, The Sixth Sense, The Color Purple, and Jurassic World, along with Mandalay Sports Media and Five Ring Films, this is a film that any hockey fan would not want to miss.
The Nagano Tapes tells the story of the 1998 Nagano Games, and backgrounds of some of the most prestigious players hockey has ever seen. From interviewing Petr Svoboda and all he and his family sacrificed to play hockey at the worlds most elite level, to Jaromir Jagr and his story of weightlifting with pipe and tires out in the yard, award winning director Ondřej Hudeček gives viewers a look to never before seen footage and exclusive interviews with players from across the NHL. Familiar faces such as Theoren Fleury, Brett Hull, and Eric Lindros recall when Team Canada and Team USA lost to the Czech Team in Nagano, singing praises of Dominik Hasek becoming an absolute brick wall, and developing an underdog story for the books.
Anyone who knows hockey knows that Team Canada plays for keeps; they play for Gold, as well as the USA. The rosters for the 1998 games were stacked, especially Team Canada. With names like Gretzky, Shanahan, Lindros, Fleury, Kariya, Brodeur and so many others, you would think it would be a walk in the park. The game went to a shootout, with the Czech’s taking the win and many Canadians left baffled at the fact that Wayne Gretzky did not participate in the shootout. Hasek came up big for his team, standing on his head to push the Czech’s to the final to decide gold where Petr Svoboda would score the lone goal in the game to win the tournament.
The film walks you through the lives of certain players in communist Czechoslovakia, how they managed to break into the NHL showing their draft class, and their journey to that iconic tournament. The Gold medal win for the Czech’s was a symbol of where the Czech Republic was going as a nation—a rebirth, and a tale of an unlikely hero amongst an army of the world’s most elite and powerful.
“We knew well that something big was happening there, that people are experiencing it, but we only found out how they were experiencing it when we came back. We still could not imagine it. But we knew that there was great deal of support here, that people here were watching us more than ever, we felt that despite the distance. But we only found out what it had been really like when we returned from the Olympics.” - Dominik Hasek
This story is truly remarkable as well as the backstories. Hearing how Svoboda left everything behind and was a refugee meeting with NHL General Managers was inspiring. When Jagr came over he didn’t speak a word of English, and European players were given a beating by the North American players, but they found common ground on the ice and the respect bloomed from there.
Notable reporters and journalists such as Hall of Fame Reporter Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, also gave their commentary on the events leading up to the tournament and the tournament itself. Hearing insight and memories from so many legends whether it was the players, the general managers or the reporters is truly an honour to see.
To play for one’s country comes with a great deal of pride and the Czech’s facing the Russians was the ultimate showdown. For the Czech’s it meant so much more than just a tournament.
“When I think of Nagano I think that was the best competition ever,” said Jágr of the 1998 tournament. “When I think of Nagano it means that anything is possible because even hockey players from a small country like Czech Republic could win it.”
Everyone loves a good underdog story, right?
Be sure to view the exclusive interviews and footage that the Olympic Channel offers in The Nagano Tapes.
In Canada and worldwide: available on-demand [for free] at olympicchannel.com.
In United States: It will be available online on-demand [for free] without a subscription in the US on March 31.