BUFFALO -- Dominik Hasek was one of the top goalies in the NHL for most of his career. He may have been the best in the world during his nine seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.
The Sabres will induct Hasek into their Hall of Fame on Saturday night; they announced Friday that they will retire his No. 39 next season. Returning to the city where he made his biggest mark as a professional to be honored is something he's taken to heart.
"I'm very excited to be invited to Buffalo to be invited to go into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame, to be among these 51 or 52 people, I'm very appreciative," Hasek said. "To be back in Buffalo to meet and see some friends and people I worked with and spent such a great time with, it always means something for me."
DOMINIK HASEK - CAREER
GAA: 2.20 | SVP: .922
Hasek joined the Sabres on Aug. 7, 1992, when he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks. For the next nine seasons, Hasek earned his nickname of "The Dominator" by winning the Hart Trophy as the NHLs most valuable player twice and the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goalie six times.
"I had great years here in Buffalo. I say thank you that I was traded to this city, to this organization in '92 from Chicago," said Hasek, who had 234 wins and a team-record 55 shutouts with the Sabres. "I got a chance to prove, to become starting goalie and after that I had, I don't know, six, seven years, which we had great teams, we made it every year to the playoffs except one of nine years. We had a few good runs, especially '98 and '99 when we made it all the way to the Finals. Unfortunately [we] never made it all the way. But still, it was honor for me to play for this organization and this is something I never forget."
During the 1998-99 season, he helped lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars. The Stars won the Stanley Cup in six games when Brett Hull scored the series-clinching goal in the third overtime. The game-winner was controversial because Hull had his foot in the crease when he fired the puck past Hasek, something the 49-year-old has no bad feelings about today.
"It's part of the life. You cannot win every game, you cannot win the championship -- you want, you try to do the best, but sometimes you don't win, Hasek said. "We came so close. I know that goal, it was disappointing for everyone in the locker room, in the city, but it's part of your life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you come close and you don't win it the whole way.
"It was unfortunate night for us, it was something disappointing, but for me it wasn't end of my life. Now, it's something we never won here in Buffalo for me, so it was disappointing. But life goes on and there are different things. I believe one day Buffalo will win the Cup. It will be with some other people and this city deserves to win one day. I don't know when it's going to happen, but one day it will happen."
Hasek's special night in Buffalo comes during a poor season for the Sabres, one that has Ted Nolan in charge of the team as interim coach.
"If you look what Dominik did for this organization, even with my time here, we had a lot of wins but a lot of wins were based on his goaltending," Nolan said. "He's a world-class goaltender. So to come back here to the city of Buffalo and get recognized for what he has or what he's going to be, it's a good honor. It's good to see him back."
Hasek and Nolan had what could be labeled as a contentious relationship when Nolan coached the team from 1995-97. But both say any issues from the past are gone.
"Whatever happened, what can I say about it? Sometimes you feel a different way than the other person, sometimes you feel that your decision is better than his decisions," Hasek said. "But I think on the ice that one or two years that we were together we done a good job for this organization, and I'm looking forward to seeing him [Friday] and I wish him good luck to improve the Sabres."
There were rumors that Hasek didn't approve of bringing Nolan back to the team when his contract ended after the 1996-97 season. There was also speculation Nolan was angry with Hasek because he wasn't able to play for most of the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs after suffering an injury during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Ottawa Senators.
Backup goalie Steve Shields stepped into the starting role and helped beat the Senators in seven games. The Sabres lost in five games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Nolan was replaced by Lindy Ruff during the summer.
Nolan said he spoke to Hasek on Friday afternoon. It was the first time the two have done that since 1997.
"I still don't know what really transpired back then, but back then is back then," Nolan said. "We had a nice talk. We had some good times and everybody looks at one incident, and one incident doesn't form a relationship. In media, I guess, sometimes we blow things way out of proportion and make it look worse than it really was. It really wasn't all that much. People have disagreements all the time."
Hasek was traded by the Sabres to the Detroit Red Wings on July 1, 2001, and went on to win the first of two Stanley Cup championships with the organization in 2002. He also won as the backup to Chris Osgood in 2008. Now all that's left for the Czech Republic native is to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He'll be on the ballot for the first time this summer.
"The hockey career is something that is behind me," Hasek said. "What great years, what fantastic things to do something what you enjoy, what you love to do, and be very well paid and be around the people who you love and spend great time with them. However, it's part of the life that every professional player has to retire some day and you wake up and you enjoy your life different ways. I appreciate to be one day, maybe, in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It was never my goal when I was playing hockey. I appreciate, however there are new goals in my life."