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Unmasked: More than luck in Hasek's barrel roll

by Kevin Woodley

Of all the incredible saves Dominik Hasek made during a two-decade career that earned induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, perhaps none was more famous than the barrel roll.

Also known as the drop and roll or the Hasek Roll, it was a signature move for a goaltender known as "The Dominator."

It also was widely misunderstood and improperly characterized as an act of desperate athleticism, or worse, a lucky save. It was anything but.

Many of Hasek's saves were easily dismissed as unorthodox flopping, but there was a method to the madness. Much of it was based on the same principles of taking away time and filling space that make up modern goaltending instruction but were emerging themes in the early-1990s when Hasek debuted in the League.

Hasek may have implemented them differently, but they were part of a preplanned system. The barrel roll was a save selection practiced for decades and intended for a specific situation.

"I was doing it in '80s, I do it in '90s, I do it in this century, it's nothing new," Hasek told late in his career. "I know I was doing it in the Czech Republic in the '80s, and I don't know if some older goalie taught me or if I [had] seen it. It was too many years ago."

Hasek used it on breakaways, including against Eric Lindros to win a shootout for the Czech Republic against Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but most often the barrel roll was reserved for a forward cutting in alone in tight from Hasek's left to right. Hasek would extend his blocker and stick to force the shooter to hold the puck out and away from him, knowing they couldn't raise a shot with their hands extended.

From there, Hasek continued this extension to the post by rolling over on his back and throwing his glove-side arm along the ice. Hasek then kicked his legs straight up to try to take away the top of the net in case the shooter had the patience to try to wait him out. In the end, it looked like a bizarro-world butterfly, with Hasek's arms extended along the ice to take away the bottom of the net and his legs up in the air acting like a torso would in a normal butterfly.

"When he's coming from my left side and he makes the move far around the net, it's just one of these you do because this is the only way to stop that puck," Hasek said. "I know I do it in certain situations, but you don't think about it. It just comes if you see a forward move farther and farther and nobody stops him. And if there's nobody to help, I have to do it myself, so the two pads go up. You have to be smart with what you're doing. I never really change my style at all, but it's the practice, it's the way you read the game; you have to know when you can do it. It's something that is hard to describe or explain."

Few tried to when it came to Hasek, but Jim Corsi, who was Buffalo Sabres goalie coach when Hasek won his final two Vezina trophies (1999, 2001), recognized the technical components in the barrel roll.

It was easy to brush off as a fluke if you saw it executed once, but after watching Hasek use it repeatedly, the same way in the same save situations each time, it was plain to see it was planned.

"I used to call it the drop and roll," Corsi said. "A lot of people thought it was luck, but the reality is it was all strategy. I'd see him do it to five different players in five similar situations and it was identical."

Corsi referred to it as a bait-and-trap save.

"He would allow the player to think there was room on the other side, but because he forced them to extend their hands, they couldn't lift the puck, so they had to sweep it in," Corsi said. "Invariably he would roll his other hand down to the goal post and they'd be like, 'Lucky guy, I put it right in his glove.' No, no, no, he was waiting for you."

Hasek's style wasn't easily labeled as stand-up, butterfly or read-and-react because he combined elements of all three, which often made those components harder to identify.

"What's gone is that he has taken the mold of a blocking skill, which is primarily the butterfly or the old two-pad stack, and he's allowed it to be part of the reactionary skill with a bait-and-trap," Corsi said. "He would draw you into an area, but he would be there waiting with you with a blocking save. It is not an easy thing to teach."

That may explain why few Hasek innovations are widely recognized in the same manner Patrick Roy is credited for revolutionizing the butterfly. Corsi, though, said there are many technical elements in Hasek's game prevalent today.

Detroit Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard could only chuckle when the vertical-horizontal (VH) technique became a popular tactic for dealing with sharp-angle chances, with goalies loading the lead pad against the post and leaving the back pad flat along the goal line. Bedard had seen it before.

"I saw Dom do that 15 years ago," Bedard said. "Guys would come around the corner with a left-hand shot going to his glove side and he would plant his one pad up against the post and he would be right behind it and it worked. When people were talking about it again, I was like, 'I saw this a long time ago with Dom.' When you see him every day, you appreciated how he played, how he kept his hands and how he kept his feet and how he got to the middle of the net."

There are elements of Hasek's game Bedard has transferred to Red Wings Chris Osgood, Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson.

"I see goalies in the summer and the first thing I say to them is, 'The ice is your friend,' and I explain how Dom skates like he was on rollers," Bedard said. "Use your edges to your advantage, don't let your edges wear you out; we're not trying to get down to the cement here."

Corsi said he sees elements of Hasek's paddle-down play today.

"I have often said Dom is one of the defining-moment goaltenders like Jacques Plante and Patrick Roy, who changed the way the game was played," Corsi said. "Paddle down, one-knee down, drop and roll, the use of his stick as an interference as opposed to just a simple pokecheck, that's all new, that's all stuff he did, that was him."

With Hasek you just had to look a little harder to spot those elements and innovation, sometimes even in the middle of a barrel roll.

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