Four months ago, Olympic champion and two-time Stanley Cup champion goaltender Dominik Hasek was announced as an ambassador for the 2019 World Para Ice Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic.
“The Dominator,” as they call him, then immediately tried out the sport for himself to see what it was like.
“What I like here in Ostrava is the audience. I’ve never seen such excitement in this building before, even when able-bodied hockey teams play.”
“I tried to play, and for me to skate like the other players do in the sledge was almost impossible,” he said, quickly realising the difficulty of the sport.
“You need to practice a lot, and my hands are not as strong as theirs.”
Hasek, now 54, played with four different NHL teams – Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa – and led the Czechs to their first and only gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
He is now playing an extended role at these World Para Ice Hockey Championships, which have seen record attendance numbers for the event.
From taking part in ceremonial puck drops to handing out Player of the Game awards to promoting the sport in regional and national media, Hasek has embraced Para ice hockey.
“I think these World Championships are the best promotion of the sport,” he said. “What I like here in Ostrava is the audience. I’ve never seen such excitement in this building before, even when able-bodied hockey teams play. All of a sudden there’s more than 7,000 people and you can also see it all on TV, too.
“I’m very proud to be an ambassador of such a great tournament for Para ice hockey. I’m excited just to be here and see the excitement in the building and on the ice.”
The host nation’s fans have packed Ostravar Arena from wall-to-wall every day of play at the tournament, with local organisers having to add more seats to the venue to accommodate larger crowds.
Friday evening’s semi-final, pitting the hosts against Paralympic champions USA, is expected to draw the biggest crowd yet.
“This is the best event, show and crowd that we’ve ever had for this tournament, let alone in Para ice hockey,” said Czech head coach Jiri Briza. “And the best part? It’s not even over yet.”