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Tales of the Dominator: 'I was born to be the goaltender'

Dominik Hasek shares his goaltending origin story

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

It can be difficult to separate myth from reality when it comes to Dominik Hasek.

The numbers alone sound like something out of folklore. Five seasons with a save percentage of .930 or better? No goalie in NHL history even has three. 

Yet you glance at the bold, black numbers on his Hockey Reference page and confirm that, yes, it's true, and no, the Dominator was not like any other goaltender.

But where does it end? Shutouts in practice? Save totals in triple digits?

While we watch Hasek help spearhead a run to the 1999 Stanley Cup Final on "Sabres Classics" over the next two weeks, we'll be revisiting some of the best stories about the legendary goaltender here on Sabres.com. 

We start today with a story from Hasek himself. 

Part 2: Coming to Buffalo | Part 3: Talking about practice

 

"Born to be the goaltender"

Why does one become a goaltender? 

It can be a thankless position, as demanding mentally as it is physically. Ken Dryden described the challenges of the position in his classic book, "The Game."

"Because the demands on a goalie are mostly mental, it means that for a goalie the biggest enemy is himself," Dryden wrote. "Not a puck, not an opponent, not a quirk of size or style. Him. The stress and anxiety he feels when he plays, the fear of failing, the fear of being embarrassed, the fear of being physically hurt, all are symptoms of his position, in constant ebb and flow, but never disappearing."

Heavy, right? Bernie Parent simplified that same sentiment. 

"You don't have to be crazy to be a goalie," Parent told Kevin Shea with the Hockey Hall of Fame back in 2005. "But it helps!"

So, for any person who chooses to make their living stopping pucks, it's worth asking: Why?

For Dominik Hasek, the answer is as legendary as the career it spawned. 

"You know what?" Hasek said. "I was probably born to be the goaltender."

Video: Sabres Memories: The Dominator

Hasek claims he had an appetite for preventing goals as long as he can remember. He would stand in front of the doorway in his kitchen and try to stop shots from his father or grandfather. Outside, he would create makeshift "nets" spanning from a tree to one of his shoes and prevent soccer balls from passing through.

"Every child is different," Hasek said. "That's the way I was. I asked my father. Everybody saw it, that I tried to be the goalie."

Hasek was six years old when his father bought him his first pair of goalie pads and a catching glove. His father fashioned a blocker himself using rubber and a regular glove. ("It's hard to describe," Hasek says, "but he made it for me.") His skate blades screwed onto the soles of his shoes. His helmet had no mask.

"I had the helmet but at the age of six there was not too many kids who would put the puck up high, so I still have the pictures from my first year," Hasek said. "I was wearing very special skates - it's hard to describe - and I was wearing the helmet without any mask."

Since 2001, Hasek has provided hockey equipment and ice time to economically underprivileged children in Western New York through his Hasek's Heroes program. 

Hasek says his own makeshift equipment only lasted through his first year before being replaced by more traditional gear. Meanwhile, he became obsessed with the local pro team in his hometown of Pardubice, attending games whenever possible. These players - not NHLers - were his hockey idols.

As Hasek tried to replicate what he had seen in the pros, he began to develop his style. He realized at a young age that flexibility was one of his strengths, which brings us to one more story from a mandatory physical when Hasek was a teenager. He recalls his coach specifically asking the doctor to look at his knees. 

"Because I could do the butterfly like 180 degrees," Hasek said. "And the doctor look at me and he said, 'This is very strange. I've never seen it. However, does it hurt you? Do you have any problems?' He touched my knees. I said, 'No.' He said, 'OK, let him play.' 

"Like I said, I was more flexible so I sort of developed my style with my flexible body. So, I was more on my knees and I could reach farther than any other goalie. So, this was my big advantage."

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