There are sadder fates in sports than being a never-used backup goaltender on an Olympic champion, but it does have a certain pathos to it. When the Czech Republic’s 1998 Olympic hockey triumph was immortalized in the Prague National Theatre by means of an opera called Nagano, it was Milan Hnilicka – Dominik Hasek’s anonymous backup – who was chosen as the main character precisely because he was viewed as a perfect tragic figure. When the former Soviet national team won its last Olympic gold in 1992, the Russians – who, of course, will never be out-tragedied – went to the extent of not even letting their third goalie keep the medal at all. That goalie, by the way, was Nikolai Khabibulin, who, as you may have heard, wound up making a name for himself.
Igor Shestyorkin, who had the privile...
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