The return of the dominator: after taking a year off to charge his batteries, Dominik Hasek is back in goal for Detroit and ready to win another Cup
THE FIRST WAVE OF EUROPEAN goalies to play in the NHL had difficulty adapting to the North American style of hockey. Hardy Astrom, Markus Mattsson, and Jiri Crha all made their NHL debuts in the late ’70s, but beyond being pioneers, none of them made much of a mark.
The trio’s failed tenures led critics to argue that the European netminder experiment was folly. And then came Pelle Lindbergh.
Lindbergh made his debut in 1981-82 and in 1984-85 posted a 40-17-7 record for the Philadelphia Flyers and won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. Tragically, the 26-year-old Swede died in a car crash eight games into the 1985-86 season.
If Lindbergh erased the myths about the European goaltending, it was Dominik Hasek who obliterated them.
The lanky Hasek, a perennial All-Star in the Czech elite league during the ’80s played sparingly in his first three NHL seasons, but in 1993-94 he began a near-decade long streak worthy of his nickname, “the Dominator.” With six Vezinas, two Hart Trophies as league MVP, and countless other honors, he blazed a trail for fellow European goalies to follow.
“I grew up watching Dominik Hasek back home when he played in the Czech elite league,” says Nashville Predators netminder Tomas Vokoun. “He was the No. 1 goalie on our national team and was really the first Czech goalie to come into the NHL and do so well.”
“Dominik has set the standard so high for everybody else, it’s unbelievable. He’s been one of the best, if not the best goalie to ever play the game.”
Despite all of Hasek’s individual awards during his stint with the Sabres, one prize alluded him–the Stanley Cup. Buffalo reached the Finals in 1999, but fell short, losing to the Dallas Stars.
Looking to cut salary and satisfy their star goalie’s desire to win a Cup, the Sabres traded Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings in the summer of 2001.
Hasek adapted well to life in the Motor City, leading the Red Wings to the top of the NHL standings in 2001-02. But an outstanding regular season is just a prelude to the ultimate challenge facing any accomplished netminder–having his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup. In June 2002, Hasek backstopped the Red Wings to hockey’s version of the Holy Grail.
His playoff heroics represented the crowning moment of an incredible career that spanned three decades and two continents. Then, his goal realized, he hung up his pads for good and announced his retirement.
“I made the decision because I didn’t feel that I could play the next season on the highest level,” Hasek reflects. “After I won the Cup, I had the feeling that I achieved everything in hockey and I didn’t have enough motivation [to continue]. And without motivation, you don’t play–at least in my case.”
Hasek’s self-imposed exile was short-lived. Much to the delight of teammates, management, and fans alike, Hasek announced this summer that he will be returning to Hockeytown for the 2003-04 season.
“I have had a break from goaltending this past year,” Hasek says. “I was able to spend more time with my family and enjoy some of the hobbies that I didn’t have time for as a player. I now feel that I have achieved a better balance in my life and I have more to contribute to the game. My batteries are recharged.”
Hasek’s dedication to physical conditioning and flexibility is legendary. After all, it’s the ability to contort his body that fuels his game.
The 38-year-old goalie maintained a high fitness level during his hiatus by playing squash, soccer, and in-line hockey–as a defenseman. But as sure as the flowers arrived in spring, so did Hasek’s competitive passion to don the pads.
“I think that even if the Wings had won the Cup last year, I would still want to come back,” admits Hasek, who watched highlights back home in the Czech Republic of the Red Wings unceremonious first-round exit from the playoffs. “I have a growing desire to be in the playoffs and play in goal again and I feel that I still have something to contribute to the game.”
Having something to contribute in Hockeytown all boils down to one goal–winning another Stanley Cup. Hasek is ready, willing, and able to meet the challenge.
“I feel like my tire is back,” Hasek says. “I want to play. I want to compete, even in practice with my teammates. I’m looking forward to competing every day in practice. The motivation factor is to be back on the ice and compete every day. That’s why I’m coming back, to compete in the NHL and play for the Cup. I know that to play for the Red Wings, this is the only goal. I know the situation. I know the people. I know the players, and I know that this is our goal–to play for the Cup.”
Though winning the Cup was the pinnacle of his career, it shouldn’t overshadow the tremendous body of work he put together in his years with the Sabres.
“Hasek emerged as the No. 1 goalie in the League,” says Tampa Bay Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay. “Year after year, the Buffalo Sabres were out-shot and year after year, he was at the top of every goaltending category. When I was coaching in Ottawa, we faced the Sabres in the playoffs and I remember one year we looked at some [regular season statistics] and found that Buffalo had given up 500 more shots than us. Even at 90% [save percentage], 500 shots equates to 50 goals. Yet the Sabres finished first in our conference and the Senators finished eighth.
Then and now, Hasek has an absolute obsession with stopping the puck. “He has a tremendous will to win,” says former New York Islanders star goalie Chico Resch, now a hockey analyst on New Jersey Devils telecasts. “Dominik is an instinctive goalie with the will to be the best every night. His concentration is tremendous and his level of play has been so high for so long.”
Possessing lightning-fast reflexes and the ability to stop the puck with any part of his body, Hasek makes saves that others wouldn’t attempt–leading to the tag of “unorthodox goalie.”
“Dominik isn’t as unorthodox as everybody suggests,” cautions Nashville goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who spent seven seasons mentoring Hasek in Buffalo. “An unorthodox style is someone who puts himself into the position to scramble all the time, who on the same 10 shots might do eight different things. Dominik reads every play and makes appropriate decisions. He has outstanding feet and uses that to his advantage. He may look unorthodox because his size is a little out of proportion for your average goaltender–he looks taller than he is because he is so thin.
“Dominik has tremendous flexibility and gets his body in position to stop the puck,” Korn continues. “He has been able to make saves by getting a shoulder or a knee down that other guys couldn’t because they’d tear something. So, when he makes that scramble save, it appears as an unorthodox save but nine times out of 10 the puck would have been in the net against someone else. You can improve your flexibility and certainly Dominik works at it, but a large portion of it is God-given.”
Even with Hasek back, another Cup is hardly a given for the Wings. He and teammates such as Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Chris Chelios are getting long in tooth.
Yet Detroit general manager Ken Holland welcomes Hasek back with open arms. “You can’t compete for the Cup with a whole group of [young players]. I don’t care how talented they are. We learned that through the early ’90s, when we had a real good young hockey club but had to learn how to win in the playoffs.
“Veterans have been through the wars, and you know what you’re going to get from them.
EVEN BEFORE HE PUT HIS NAME ON THE STANLEY CUP WITH THE DETROIT RED
WINGS, Dominik Hasek had amassed enough hardware to make Bob Vila
drool. Here’s a look at some of Hasek’s honors and awards:
HONOR YEARS WON
(NHL’s most outstanding goalie 1994, ’95. ’97, ’98, ’99, and 2001
(NHL MVP) 1997 and ’98
(MVP as voted by players) 1997 and ’98
(fewest goals allowed) 1994 and 2001
All-Rookie Team 1992
NHL All-Star First Team 1994, ’95, ’97, ’98, ’99, and 2001
All-Star Game 1996,’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, and 2001
Czech League Player of the Year 1987, ’89, and ’90
Czech League All-Star 1989 and ’90
Olympic gold medal 1998
NHL leader in victories 2001-02
NHL leader in shutouts 1993-94 (tie), 1994-95 (tie),
1997-98, and 2000-01
NHL leader in GAA 1993-94 and 1994-95
NHL leader in save percentage 1993-94, 1994-95, 1995-96,
1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, and
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COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group