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Hasek adds another chapter to storied career

by Bill Meltzer
After living up to his nickname in the 2010 Czech Extraliga playoffs, Dominik Hasek has elected to extend his lengthy and legendary career by at least one more season.

The 45-year-old goaltender has signed a one-year contract with Spartak Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League. Last summer, "The Dominator" ended a one-year retirement to play for his hometown team, HC Pardubice, that gave him his start in the sport in 1981-82. He went on to deliver an Extraliga championship with an astounding postseason performance.

Hasek had a very solid regular season in 2009-10, posting a 2.26 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and one shutout. In the playoffs, he turned his game up even further, limiting opponents to a mere 1.68 goals per game, stopping pucks at a .937 clip and registering 3 shutouts. In so doing, HC Pardubice reeled off a record 12 straight playoff wins to capture the Czech championship. The team lost the opening game of the quarterfinals to HC Trinec, but won the next four contests. Pardubice then went on to sweep highly favored HC Liberec in the semifinals and HC Vitkovice in the final to win the fifth championship in team history.

Hasek added yet another honor to a career that already included two Stanley Cup rings, six Vezina trophies, two Hart trophies, an Olympic gold medal, a pair of Czech league championships and three Golden Hockey Sticks (Czech league most valuable player). As a result of his triumphant return last season, he decided to accept Spartak's offer and extend his active career.

"To be honest, I don't know that much about the team yet," Hasek said at his introductory press conference. "I talked to some people and I've watched KHL hockey on Czech television. I know the coach [fellow Czech Milos Riha] and I'm excited to start with a new team. ... I feel like I have kept myself in good shape, and there's a lot of great players in the league, so it should be a real good challenge for me. I don't really worry about my age."

Last season, Spartak finished in third place in the KHL's Bobrov Division and earned the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs (as with the NHL, there are eight teams per conference that reach the playoffs). In the postseason, Spartak beat Dynamo Moscow 3-1 in the best-of-five conference quarterfinals but lost to fifth-seeded Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 4-2 in the best-of-seven conference semis. Former NHL forward Branko Radivojevic, a Slovak, led Spartak last season with 18 goals and 54 points.

"I talked to many of the Czech players in the [KHL], and they all said it's the best hockey league in Europe. I talked to Milos Riha, and he told me what the team and the organization are all about. So I'm excited to get started," said Hasek. "...Last season, it was great to play in my hometown and to win the championship. That was special to me. But this is a new challenge."

Over the course of his initial eight-season stay with HC Pardubice as a young player, 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 through 1988-89). During the NHL work stoppage of 2004-05, Hasek suited up for HC Pardubice in two Czech Extraliga games. He then spent one season with the Ottawa Senators before returning to the Red Wings and winning his second Cup in 2007-08, although he primarily served as the backup to Chris Osgood during the playoffs.

In the course of his 16-year NHL career, Hasek won 389 regular-season games for the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. He cemented his national hero status in the Czech Republic by leading the team to the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan. After winning his first Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2001-02, Hasek announced his retirement on June 25. He returned to the Wings after a one-year hiatus, and retired for a second time in the summer of 2008. Hasek says that his third retirement from hockey will be the one that sticks.

"Right now, I feel great. I don't want to think past next season," Hasek said. "But to be realistic, I can only keep going as long as I feel like I'm able to bounce back physically and play at a level that's fair to my team and to myself."

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