Dominik Hasek, 'the best ever', retires from hockey
Dominik Hasek. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters file photo)
This time, he means it.
Dominik Hasek, at the age of 47, has been locked out of the locked-out National Hockey League and, without any place else to play, he has called it a career.
The greatest statistical goaltender in history -- "The greatest I've ever seen," said John Muckler -- walks away at this time of NHL embarrassment, none of it diminishing the weird and unconventional manner in which he handled the most important position in the sport.
"He used to scare the hell out of me because he didn't play by the book," said Muckler, who was his coach and general manager, first with the Buffalo Sabres, later with the Ottawa Senators. "I knew he stopped pucks. But I didn't know how he stopped them. That's what bothered me. He had a sense for the game like no one I've ever seen in goal and a tremendous competitive spirit.
"I remember one time we played New Jersey in the first round of the playoffs. The series went seven games. There was one game that went about four overtime periods. (Martin) Brodeur was in goal for Jersey. Dom was in goal for us. I think they each faced about 70 shots, first time in hockey history that happened in a game. (Dave) Hannan scored for us and we forced a Game 7. We lost 2-1 in the seventh game. They went on to win the Cup that year."
The words used to describe Hasek by those who played with him or against him were quite similar: Quirky. Different. Fiercely competitive. Committed.
"He made saves no one else made," said Ken Holland, who had Hasek three different times with the Red Wings, winning Stanley Cups in two of those four seasons. "He would get inside the head of your opponents. And he would break your will.
"I've been lucky to have been around some all-time great players here. Dom was one of those. He could take his game to another level and when he took it to that level, no one else could take their game to a similar level. And he was in his 40s doing that here. Imagine how great he was before that."
Holland has a favourite story he likes to tell about Hasek. It was during the first season he played for the Red Wings. At the time, the Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche were arch-rivals, and in the lead-up to an early-season game, a local Detroit newspaper featured two large photographs, one of Hasek, one of Patrick Roy.
"We played Colorado, outshot them badly, 40-something to like 16, and we lost 4-1. Dom didn't have a very good game that night. I went home and came back to the rink in the morning and the guy at the security gate told me that Hasek's car was in the parking lot all night. When I went in the building, I found out that Dom had spent the night sleeping on a cot in the stick room. He was punishing himself because he didn't play to the level he expected of himself.
"I'd always heard he was a difficult guy, different guy to have on teams and not necessarily a popular player, but I haven't known many competitors like him. That year, we beat Colorado in seven games in the Conference final and Dom outplayed Patrick Roy and we went on to win his first Stanley Cup."
He retired after winning the Cup, came back, was locked out for a year and was without a team in the summer when NHL hockey returned in 2005.
To this day, Muckler believes the circumstances surrounding the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, cost the Ottawa Senators the Stanley Cup that year. But all that began with a mid-summer telephone call from the agent, Ritch Winter.
"What would you think of bringing Dom to Ottawa?" Winter asked Muckler.
"I said, 'I'd love to, but we don't have much money.' Ritch told me Dom just wanted to come back and prove a point. Money didn't matter.
"He came back and played very well for us (a 2.09 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage in his only year as a Sen). But the whole thing around the Olympics screwed him up. He had to fly all night to get to Italy and they asked him to play without any real rest. That was when he hurt that soft tissue in his groin. That was the end of our season and that was the end of our Stanley Cup right there. We had a helluva team that year. I believe we would have won the Cup if Dom had stayed healthy."
For him, that would have meant an Olympic gold medal in 1998, a Stanley Cup in '02 as the Red Wings' starter, one for Ottawa in '06 (had it happened), another for Detroit in '08 as the backup to Chris Osgood. But it isn't really the Cups Hasek is best known for. He is renowned for his unorthodox, never-duplicated style of playing goal, which led to two Hart Trophies, six Vezina Trophies and the most mind-boggling statistics in history, which included having five seasons of save percentages above .930.
To put those seasons into context, consider this: The five seasons above .930 are greater statistically than any single season enjoyed by Roy, Brodeur, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden or Ed Belfour, none of whom had ever been above .929 for an entire year. Hasek, who was acquired by Gerry Meehan in Buffalo, traded away by Mike Keenan, had seven seasons in which he ranged between 1.87 and 2.11 as his goals-against average. Both his playoff goals-against average (2.20) and his playoff save percentage (.922) are better than Roy's 2.30 and .918 -- and many consider Roy the greatest playoff goaltender ever.
"I used to think Sawchuk was the best I'd ever seen," said Muckler. "But I think Dom is the best ever. A lot of people wondered about his attitude, but they had him wrong. He was an original in goal and the greatest competitor. He got accused of things that he wasn't guilty of. When he couldn't play, it was because he believed he wasn't 100% and he didn't want to let his teammates down."
Holland echoed Muckler's views on Hasek's competitive spirit. In one of his first practices with the Wings, Brendan Shanahan scored a goal on him and then left the ice.
"Dom went flying out of the net after him," said Holland. "He chased him down and wanted him to come back on the ice. He wanted more shots like that. His attention to detail was like no one else. He competed on every shot, in every game, every practice. I haven't known many like that."
There haven't been many like Hasek, who sometimes played the butterfly, sometimes the standup, sometimes stacked his pads, sometimes didn't, dropped his stick on cue and picked up pucks with his blocker hand and assaulted convention.
"Dom played percentages," said Holland. "He turned goaltending into a science and he had it down to a science. The thing is, you never knew what he was going to do. But he always knew what he was doing and why.
"One time I looked at the net and Dom had one skate attached to one post, one skate against the other post. and his stick in the middle, on the ice. Nobody else had a body that could do that."
Joe Nieuwendyk won a Stanley Cup with Belfour in Dallas, another with Brodeur in Jersey and fell victim, as Team Canada did, at the first Olympic Games in which NHL players participated. It was supposed to be Canada's tournament to win in 1998 in Nagano. But Hasek got in the way.
The semi-final game between Canada and the Czech Republic went to a shootout. Nieuwendyk was one of the shooters.
"He seemed like a house when you saw him in the net," Nieuwendyk said.
"Everything was pretty much covered. And it was strange, because he wasn't a big guy. He was skinny. But with all the equipment it looked like there was no room at all.
"He got in our heads. You started thinking you had to be perfect against him. I had a lot of success before with the move I tried, but the puck kind of rolled on me and it didn't happen. But he was in our heads. He'd really gotten to us.
"You don't often say this about a goalie, but he was intimidating to play against for an opposing player. He was intimidating because he was so frigging good."
HASEK BY THE NUMBERS
1 - Olympic Gold Medal
2 - Stanley Cup rings
2 - Hart Trophies
3 - Jennings Trophies
4 - NHL teams (Chicago, Buffalo, Detroit, Ottawa)
5 - Save Pcg. Season at .930 or above
6 - Vezina Trophies