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UNIQUE STYLE AND UNRELENTING COMPETITIVENESS DROVE HASEK TO GREATNESS

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)


For someone who never had a goalie coach growing up, Dominik Hasek ended up with a very successful career.

During his years playing in the NHL, “The Dominator” won six Vezina Trophies as the League’s best goaltender, two Hart Trophies as the League MVP, two Stanley Cup rings and an Olympic gold medal.

And now, he has a plaque hanging up in the Esso Great Hall in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Monday night, he’ll be officially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with fellow players Rob Blake, Peter Forsberg and Mike Modano, referee Bill McCreary and the late coach Pat Burns.

“When you play hockey, you never think about,” Hasek said in Toronto on Friday. “You play hockey to win the game. You play hockey to win the last game of the season or to win the game for your country. That’s what hockey’s about.

“But once you retire and you start to think about it and you are selected like one of these [263] players and you feel like I am one of them, it’s definitely a great honor.”

As TSN broadcaster Gord Miller joked during the presentation of their Hall of Fame rings Friday, Hasek is maybe lucky he didn’t have to wait to be inducted until 2015. Hasek didn’t take the initial phone call from the Hall.

“I was on my bike somewhere in the country and it was windy. I got a number I didn’t know. I said, ‘I don’t hear you. Call me later,’” Hasek said. “I had no idea who was talking to me so I came home, I took a shower and after that, John [Davidson, chairman of the Selection Committee] called me.”

BEST OF BUFFALO
Hasek, 49, played nine seasons with the Buffalo Sabres from 1992 until 2001. He is the ninth Sabres player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

During his time in Buffalo, Hasek held numerous franchise records and, upon his departure from the Sabres, owned the records for most all-time games played (491), wins (234), shutouts (55) and lowest career goals-against average (2.22).

Hasek appeared in a career-high 72 games for the club in the 1997-98 season, setting a team record with 13 shutouts, only to follow that up with a career-best 1.87 GAA, .937 save percentage and a Stanley Cup Final berth in 1998-99.

He remembers his days in Buffalo fondly but felt that if he wanted to win a Stanley Cup, he would have to be dealt to another team.

A trade was eventually worked out that sent Hasek to the Detroit Red Wings, a team that, including Hasek and coach Scotty Bowman, has had eight members inducted into the Hall of Fame (and that doesn’t include Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Ferodov or Chris Osgood, who each may get the call one day).

When it comes to his career, Hasek said he has no regrets.

“I knew in 2001 there was no chance to win it in Buffalo because the team was not any more like it used to be,” he said. “I made a decision and I asked to be traded. It was one of my best decisions.”

“Buffalo, it’s my second home. I spent probably the best years of my career there. But to win the Stanley Cup at that time, I had to move.”

He was inducted into the Buffalo Sabres Hall of Fame in March and the Sabres are set to retire his No. 39 in a pregame ceremony on Jan. 13, 2015 when they host Detroit.

STYLE POINTS
Growing up in the Czech Republic, Hasek's coaches were so focused on the forwards and defense, he said it didn’t matter how he played in net as long as he stopped the puck. So he taught himself to play goal by watching great netminders like Jiří Holeček and Vladislav Tretiak.

Some styles he was able to mimic, many others he made his own.

Due to his exceptional flexibility, Hasek was able to do things between the pipes most people would pull muscles just thinking about. A Mastercard commercial once said he had a Slinky for a spine. Watching him play, they may have only been slightly embellishing the truth.

Before coming over to the NHL, Hasek played nine seasons in the Czech League (1981-90) and was named Goaltender of the Year five times, Player of the Year three times and was thrice named to the First All-Star team.

Drafted in the 10th round of the 1983 NHL Draft, started his career with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1990-91 season but with Ed Belfour firmly entrenched as the starting goaltender, Hasek had to settle for a backup role. The Sabres acquired Hasek in a trade in 1992 and he had an opportunity to earn the starting job.

“In Buffalo, everything changed for me. I had a coach, John Muckler, and the organization, I felt right from the beginning, bigger support than in Chicago,” Hasek said. “And importantly, Eddie Belfour wasn’t there. In Buffalo, it was a different situation. I got a chance and you know how it ended.”

Goaltending coach Mitch Korn encouraged Hasek’s unique style.

“He knew that my style is not bad. He said, ‘You just need to work on some other things to get you better,’” Hasek said. “I was lucky to get this goalie coach who never really tried to change my style. But sometimes it was difficult to listen to people – like my style is not good. But I’m glad that I could prove that my style is good enough.”

As for any criticism that may have come from those who thought Hasek wouldn’t succeed playing the way he did – twisting and turning and throwing his body across the crease at unusual angles, venturing out to the blue lines and on some occasions and sometimes conveniently losing his stick – he didn’t listen to any of it.

It’s mostly because it was all lost in translation.

“Fortunately, I didn’t understand English at that time, so I had no idea what was written about me in the papers or what the coaches say so I couldn’t listen too much to them,” he said with a large grin.

Hasek says he was a goaltender from the very beginning. Before he even joined a team, he’d have family members take shots on him.

“I always asked my parents or my father or my grandfather to shoot at me in the kitchen at home, in the meadow around the house, in the net,” he said. “I never tried to score on someone. I was 3, 4 years old and I was always in the net to stop the ball or stop the puck. When I was 6, it was my first practice and I came to the hockey rink as a goalie. So I’ve been a goalie since Practice No. 1.”

‘A BIG GUY ON A BIG STAGE’
Teammates would often get frustrated in practice or in warmups because Hasek was determined to stop everything. His competitive nature has been with him since he was little, even when he was watching his favorite team.

“The professional team I was cheering for, any time they were losing, I remember my grandpa had a handkerchief in his hand and he told me, ‘You don’t have to cry when we lose,’” he said. “I remember when I was 4, 5, 6 and any time our team lost, I was crying.”

The Sabres reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1999 and faced off Modano’s Dallas Stars. Dallas won the Stanley Cup in six games on that infamous overtime goal by Brett Hull.

Modano remembers Hasek’s ferocious competitiveness well.

“He was just a hard guy to play against. He made your nights pretty tough and frustrated us a lot of nights,” Modano said. “For the most part, I was glad he was out in the East for most of those years but finally crossing paths in ’99 was even tougher.

“We had some hard-fought games that series. He was a big guy on a big stage, big-game guy and he never failed in those situations.”

Hasek counts his gold medal win in the 1998 Winter Olympic Games with the Czech Republic – along with his first Stanley Cup championship in 2002 – as his greatest playing moment. The Czechs beat the United States in quarterfinals and then toppled heavily favored Canada in a shootout in the semis. They then defeated Russia 1-0 in the gold medal game.

Because it was the first time the tournament had been held on international-sized ice, McCreary who had the privilege of officiating the tournament, remembers the North American teams being at a distinct disadvantage going in.

Hasek was named Best Goaltender at the Games.

“Dominik just came up big for his team. They blocked a lot of shots,” McCreary said. “They were structured; they were well coached and very well-disciplined. It was a bit of a mean, dirty game to referee bit it was a lot of fun and a great experience.”

SWAN SONG
Hasek played one season for the Ottawa Senators before returning to the Red Wings in 2006. He won his second Stanley Cup in 2008 and after that playoff run, retired from the NHL for good. He played two more seasons in Europe before announcing his official retirement from the game on Oct. 9, 2012.

In retirement, he says he’s active with the Czech Republic’s Hockey Hall of Fame, enjoys playing other sports -- that may include bike rides in the country – and has some business ventures he’s invested in. He also has a new English Setter that he’s looking forward to spending more time with.

“For every player, it comes to a day you have to retire forever, so it came to me also,” he said. “Talking about it, I don’t have any regrets to retire once or twice before just because I felt a little bit tired. But after a few months without hockey, I felt like to come back.

“Any time I came back, here in North America or even one more time in Europe, I felt like I still played great hockey and continued to help my teammates win.”

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