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Hasek, 44, signs with team where it all started

by Bill Meltzer
With two Stanley Cup rings, six Vezina trophies, two Hart trophies, an Olympic gold medal, a pair of Czechoslovak championships and three Golden Hockey Sticks (Czech league most valuable player) to his credit, Dominik Hasek has earned the right to rest on his laurels. Instead, the 44-year-old goaltender has elected to come out of retirement to rejoin his original club, HC Pardubice. He will also take a shot at earning a roster spot for Team Czech Republic at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

At a press conference in Prague earlier this week, the future Hall-of-Fame goaltender laid out his plans for next season. He's ending his one-year retirement to sign a one-year contract with HC Pardubice. There is a club option for a second season.

"I'm really glad I could sign a deal with this club," Hasek said. "It's the club where I spent the most years. I've never even thought I could play for any other club in the Czech Republic."

During the season-long NHL lockout of 2004-05, Hasek suited up for HC Pardubice in two Czech Extraliga games. He then spent one season with Ottawa before returning to the Red Wings and winning his second Cup in 2007-08 (primarily backing up Chris Osgood during Detroit's playoff run). Now, after another one-year stint away from the game, he returns to the club where it all began. Once the youngest player in the league, he'll now be the oldest. "The Dominator" also indicated his interest in playing in one final Olympics, but that decision lies with the national-team brass.

"My return won't be easy," Hasek said at his return press conference. "We have big goals with Pardubice. I don't talk about my age, but a return to top hockey will not be easy. I want to keep winning. I'm looking forward to it."

HC Pardubice (now officially known for sponsorship reasons as HC Moeller Pardubice) is Hasek's hometown club. Located 65 miles east of Prague along the Elbe River, the industrial city of 88,000 residents is one of the Czech Republic's best-known hockey cities. In addition to Hasek, HC Pardubice has produced the likes of Milan Hejduk, Ales Hemsky and Jan Bulis.

Like most elite league clubs in Europe, HC Pardubice has a youth-to-adult hockey program, with the senior club being comprised of professional players. Hasek first joined the program when his father signed him up at the age of 6.

"I didn't even have real skates. I had those blades that you screwed onto the soles of your shoes, but I was tall, and the 9-year-olds didn't have a goalie, so they put me in with them," Hasek recalled in 1995 to Larry Wigge in The Sporting News'.

Hasek quickly proved to be a prodigy. He rocketed through the Czechoslovak youth and junior ranks. During the 1981-82 season, the 16-year-old cracked HC Pardubice's senior roster, appearing in 12 games. The following season, he emerged as the club's starting goalie. Hasek also came to play regularly with the Czechoslovak junior and senior national teams.

With communism still in place, Hasek had little thought at the time of playing in the National Hockey League. The only way for a player to appear in the NHL was to defect or, in the case of aging stars such as national team defenseman Miroslav Dvorak, to receive special permission from the Czechoslovak government and hockey federation. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted Hasek late in the 1983 Entry Draft (10th round, 199th overall). He did not even learn of his selection until several months later.

Over the course of his eight-season stay with HC Pardubice, Hasek led the club to Czechoslovakian First League championships in 1986-87 and 1988-89. He captured two Golden Hockey Stick awards as the league's most valuable player and four consecutive Best Goaltender awards (1985-86 to 1988-89).

"Our team had a lot of success in those years, and hockey was all I thought about," Hasek said.

Internationally, he was chosen the top netminder at the 1982 World Junior Championships and the 1985 and 1987 IIHF World Championships. He won three silver medals at the World Juniors and a silver medal and three bronzes at the World Championships.
"My return won't be easy. We have big goals with Pardubice. I don't talk about my age, but a return to top hockey will not be easy. I want to keep winning. I'm looking forward to it." -- Dominik Hasek
In the meantime, Hasek took a rare step among top sportsmen, continuing his formal education and earning a university degree. Hasek earned teaching certification after studying history and Czech language at the Faculty of Education in Hradec Kralove, not far from his native Pardubice.

In 1989, the non-violent "Velvet Revolution" marked the end of communism in Czechoslovakia. That same year, Hasek joined Dukla Jihavla for one season, capturing his third Golden Hockey Stick and fifth straight Best Goaltender award. He then backstopped the national team to another bronze medal at the World Championships.

The following season, Hasek turned professional. He went on to win 389 regular-season games for the Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, capturing two Hart trophies and six Vezina trophies along the way. Hasek cemented his national hero status in the Czech Republic by leading the team to gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

After winning his first Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002, Hasek announced his retirement. Upon his return to the Czech Republic to celebrate with the Cup, a crowd greeted him with chants of "One more year!" He returned to the Wings after a one-year hiatus.

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