Dominik Hasek’s unorthodox style on and off the ice leads to jersey retirement in Buffalo

Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek had his No. 39 retired by the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 13th (Harry Scull Jr., AP/The Buffalo News)

Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek had his No. 39 retired by the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 13th (Harry Scull Jr., AP/The Buffalo News)

This past Tuesday, the Buffalo Sabres celebrated the brilliant career of a skinny little goalie named Dominik Hasek. A completely unassuming net minder by his appearance, was a good reason to follow the old adage; you should never judge a book by its cover.

As his #39 jersey was being raised to the rafters at the First Niagara Center, both cities he loved to play for were in attendance. The Detroit Red Wings were in town, a place Hasek says he has “great memories” in. Making this a perfect night for the man who would become known to the hockey world as the Dominator.

Baptism by Fire

Dominik Hasek was a young star in his native Czechoslovakia. At 16 he was one of the youngest pros ever in his country. He was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 1983 and didn’t find out about it until months later.

He stayed there for over 6 years until finally the Blackhawks brought him in to be Ed Belfour’s backup. He made his NHL debut at 25 on November 6th, 1990. Just to show you how long ago it was, the game ended in a tie and it was against the Hartford Whalers. Both the tie and team are long gone from the NHL.

Hasek spent 2 years as a backup and was given a trial by fire in the 1992 Stanley Cup Finals for the world to see. Against the incredible attack of the eventual champ Pittsburgh Penguins, Hasek displayed the “rubbery” “flopping” style that made him one of the greats of all-time.

Becoming the Dominator

Hasek was brought in by John Muckler to the Buffalo Sabres. Here’s some trivia for you: he was traded for goalie Stephane Beauregard and future considerations. Coincidentally, that deal and Hasek’s play would win Muckler an “Executive of the Year Award” in 1997.

Dominik spent nine incredible seasons in Buffalo and probably saw more rubber per game than roadkill on a Saskatchewan highway. His sprawling never give up stops were regular highlight reel material on Sportscenter. However, trouble was looming when he and head coach Ted Nolan would clash.

Hasek vs. Nolan

This is one of hockey’s dirty little secrets. The official record goes like this, the two were at odds and caused major tensions for everyone in the locker-room. It’s hard to get an official reason for the heat, leading many to speculate that this was not a coaching problem but a personal one off the ice. Accusations of Ted Nolan being drunk at practice and either having affairs with players’ wives were running rampant. None of which were ever substantiated.

The situation game to a volcanic end during the 97 playoffs in the opening round against Ottawa. Hasek pulled himself from a game after stating he heard something pop in his knee. Buffalo reporter Jim Kelley called out the goaltender’s heart which led to an altercation between he and Hasek.

Kelley had been reporting on Hasek erratic behavior for a while and used this incident as the focal point of his argument. Leading up to the incident, Kelley stated that Hasek trashed the locker room in Boston during the regular season, and threw a tantrum in warmups before Game 3 against Ottawa. He also skipped a team meeting before the game.

This caused Hasek to confront and assault Kelley which led to him being suspended for 3 games by the NHL. Hasek would apologize to Kelley but was calling for Nolan’s head after the season. At the NHL awards, he said “it would be better for me if he wasn’t the coach.”

After Ted Nolan won the Jack Adams award for coach of the year in 1997, he was fired.

17 years later, Hasek and Nolan put the past behind them. Hasek was quoted by the National Post:

“Whatever happened, what can I say about it?” Hasek said. “Sometimes you feel different way than the other person, sometimes you feel that your decision is better than his decisions. But I think on the ice that one or two years that we were together we done a good job for this organization.”

Stanley Cups in Detroit

Dominik Hasek with Cup 2002 (By Paul Sancya, AP)

Dominik Hasek with Cup 2002 (By Paul Sancya, AP)

The Dominator would reach hockey’s mountain top twice in Detroit after being traded by Buffalo in 2001 to lower costs. Here’s some more trivia: Hasek was dealt for Vyacheslav Kozlov, a first round selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft and future considerations.

In Detroit, he was the final missing piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle and took home the hardware in 2002 and then 6 years later in 2008. When it was all said and done after a brief stint in Ottawa and a return to Detroit, Hasek would officially call it quits.

Rising to the Rafters

The Dominator won the Hart Trophy twice and Vezina Trophy six times in his illustrious career. He closed out his numbers with a stellar 2.20 goals against average and a sparkling .922 save percentage in 735 games. Dominik also finished with 389 regular season wins and 81 shutouts to go along with his 65 playoff wins and 14 shutouts.

All those accolades led to watching his jersey rise in a city that he holds dear to his heart.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the sound of Sabres fans cheering,” Hasek told the adoring crowd. “Sabres fans are one of a kind and having your support means as much to me as any trophy that I have won.”

Congrats to one of the game’s greats.

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