TURIN - The Czech Republic will have to chase Olympic gold without The Dominator -- at least for now.
The Dominik Hasek situation took an abrupt turn this morning with word that he will leave the Olympics after suffering a slight strain to his adductor muscle Wednesday. Indications are the injury could sideline the Senators goalie for 10-14 days, so he is returning to Canada to be checked by Senators team doctors.
Hasek told Czech team officials today of his decision.
"Our medical staff decided that I'm not able to play. It's over," Hasek said. "I don't want to get hurt for the rest of the National Hockey League season."
Though Hasek had been listed as day-to-day by the Czech team, even team physiotherapist Pavel Kolar said there was only a "30-40%" chance the goaltender would return during the Games.
The 41-year-old Hasek was the star of the 1998 Olympics - the first to rely mostly on NHL players - for the Czechs, beating Canada in a semifinal shootout and Russia in the gold-medal game.
Hasek originally said it was a hamstring injury. But Czech backup goalie Tomas Vokoun later said Hasek told him it was a groin injury. Czech officials say it is a tense adductor muscle in the upper left leg.
Hasek's departure is one of two big blows to the Czech Republic team, as New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias is also heading back to North America after suffering bruised ribs. He'll be replaced by Ales Kotalik of the Buffalo Sabres.
"We just lost one game, we're not out of play," Hasek said of the 1-1 Czech side, which lost a stunning 3-2 upset to Switzerland Thursday in one of the biggest Games upsets in years. "We have so many good players. I think we've got the team to be successful."
The Senators, meanwhile, had no idea the situation would turn so quickly when GM John Muckler held a conference call with the media on Thursday.
"It's above the groin on the backside of his (right) leg and it's pretty high up," said Muckler during the call. Muckler also spoke with Hasek yesterday. "Yes, it's a slight strain. It's day-to-day and looks like it's not going to be anything major."
Muckler said the injury is not related to the groin injury which required surgery two years ago. He also said he had not asked Hasek to return to Ottawa.
"It has entered my mind but I don't think it's necessary at this point in time," Muckler said during the conference call. "Dom wants a chance to win a gold medal, and we'll give him every opportunity to do that."
Sources say while Hasek had originally been willing to stay with the Czech team in Turin, he wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his chances of winning a Stanley Cup.
Hasek has a history of groin problems. The Senators' concern is that if this injury isn't healed before the team returns to NHL play, it might nag him through the playoffs.
"You wonder how serious it could be and the consequences," said Muckler. "Fortunately, I don't think there'll be any terrible consequences to this injury."
An MRI conducted by a Czech doctor at a Turin hospital Wednesday revealed that Hasek -- who wouldn't speak to the media yesterday -- was going to need rest. But the Senators were frustrated as they tried to get more information.
The injury doesn't have the Senators thinking about making a deal for another goaltender -- yet.
EMERY 'OUR GUY'
"Ray Emery will be our guy, no question," said Muckler, who didn't rule out having a third goalie available. "When you look at what's available out there, there's not many options you can take. (Emery) is our No. 2 goaltender, and we still feel that way."
Hasek's injury is another bad omen for the NHL's future participation in the Olympics. Philly owner Ed Snider complained publicly about the risk before the Turin Games, and the league office is also concerned.
"Injuries to our players is one of the known risks the league and our clubs accepted when we undertook to participate in the Olympics," said NHL vice-president Bill Daly.
"However, it's not a risk we particularly like accepting, and one which, depending on our experience, could potentially cause us to decide against continuing to participate in the Olympics in the future."
Hasek has a history of groin injuries. He is expected to return to Ottawa this weekend to begin treatment, and it is not known whether he will miss any NHL games once play resumes later this month.
Hasek's departure leaves Nashville Predators goalie Vokoun as the Czechs' top goalie for the rest of the tournament. The Czechs, the defending world champions, were beaten by Switzerland 3-2 on Thursday in a major upset and have a 1-1 record through two games of their five round-robin contests in group play.
"We just lost one game, we're not out of play," Hasek said. "We have so many good players. I think we've got the team to be successful."