January 13, 2015

The Dominator: Dominik Hasek

"I just try to stop the puck"
The knock against European goalies used to be that they could not succeed in the NHL. Dominik Hasek played the biggest role in dispelling that myth.

Only Vladislav Tretiak is regarded as a greater European goaltender. In fact Hasek, born in Pardubice, Czechoslovakia, is the all time leader among European goalies in NHL games played and is regarded as not only the best European goalie, but one of the greatest goalies of any generation.

When he was on top of his game in Buffalo, Hasek may have been the most entertaining goalie ever to watch. His style is so indescribable and unorthodox yet so entertaining to watch. He has been known to do somersaults and back-strokes to stop the puck.

Hasek's greatness was hindered by politics. Until the fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s, superstar players from Communist Europe had little hope of ever playing in the NHL. Therefore, Hasek, who grew up idolizing Czech goaltending legend Jiri Holecek, spent some of his best years as the top goalie outside of the NHL.

His pre-NHL resume is impressive:

* Czechoslovakian Goaltender of the Year: 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990
* Czechoslovakian Player of the Year: 1987, 1989, 1990
* Czechoslovakian First-Team All-Star: 1988, 1989, 1990
* Czechoslovakian goalie in the 1984, 1987 and 1991 Canada Cup.

Perhaps his greatest pre-olympic moment was in 1983 when he led the Czech team to the silver medal in the World Championships, his first major tournament not including his junior career. Hasek was the best junior goalie in Europe in his day, winning the Top Goalie status in almost every tournament he participated in. In the 1983 World Championships, he was robbed of Top Goalie honours but was recognized by those in the media and hockey world as the best goalie in that tournament.

Hasek's North American career is much more well documented. He was drafted in 1983, 199th pick overall by Chicago but didn't come to North America until 1991 when he played with Chicago's farm team in Indianapolis. The following season he split between Chicago and Indianapolis, but because of Eddie Belfour's unquestioned status as the Hawk's goalie he would be moved to Buffalo in exchange for Stephane Beauregard and a draft pick, one of the most one sided trades ever.

The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Awe-inspiring history.

By 1993-94 he won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie and was a First Team All Star. He became the first NHL backstop since Bernie Parent in 1973-74 to finish the season with a GAA below 2.00 (1.95).

In 1994-95 he duplicated his Vezina and All Star accomplishments as he led the league with an incredible .930 save percentage.

1996-97 was his greatest year while at the same time his most controversial. He posted a career high 37 wins and led Buffalo to first place in their division. Hasek was named to the First All Star team and won his third Vezina. More importantly he was name the Hart Trophy winner, becoming the first goaltender to be name the league's most valuable player since Jacques Plante in 1962. He also won the Lester Pearson trophy as voted by his peers as the best player in the league that season. However all was not rosy for the Dominator, as he became involved in off ice problems with reporters and his popular coach. In his greatest season he lost some of support from loyal fans.


In the post-Mario Lemieux era, the NHL had desperately waited for one of its collection of stars to rise to the level above everyone else. In the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano Japan, Dominik Hasek established himself as the best player in hockey.

The tournament was considered to be a 4 horse race with Canada and the USA as co-favorites and Sweden and Russia as definite threats. Even a strong Finnish team was expected to finish ahead of the Czech Republic.

But no one counted out the Czech Republic for two reasons: Jaromir Jagr and Dominik Hasek. Jagr, who many expected to establish himself as the best player in hockey this year, scored just one goal in the tournament but was his usual incredible self. But make no mistake - Dominik Hasek almost single-handedly won his country the gold medal, and he did it in legendary fashion.

After going 2-1 in the round robin, the Czechs were forced to take on the defending World Cup champions USA in the first game of the lose-and-you're-out medal round. With a great defensive system in front of him, Hasek stole a victory away from the heavily favored yet disgruntled US team.

However things certainly didn't get any easier for Hasek as the Czechs were then even bigger underdogs in the next game. Canada was the opponent, and the rules were simple - winner plays for gold, loser plays for bronze.

In what easily classifies as one of the greatest international hockey games of all time, Dominik Hasek emerged victorious, not only over Canada but over his arch rival of goaltending supremacy, Patrick Roy.

In the classic goaltending battle, the two teams entered the third period deadlocked at zero. Nearing the half-way mark of the third period Jiri Slegr's point shot managed to elude Patrick Roy, and the Czech's fell into their defensive shell, thinking one goal would be enough - thinking there's no way anyone could score on Hasek that night.

However, in typical Canadian dramatic style, Trevor Linden managed to roof a shot above Dominik Hasek's shoulder with just a minute left to play. It would have been a goal that would rival Paul Henderson's 1972 goal for Canada's greatest international moment if they had gone on to win. Except that goal only tied the game, and Hasek had no intention of letting in another.

The game went into overtime, and the Czechs basically played the trap, trying to force the dreaded Olympic shootout. Unlike in the NHL playoffs, international hockey would have games decided by a breakaway competition instead of endless overtime.

Hasek, considered perhaps to be the greatest breakaway goalie in history, stopped all 5 shooters. Patrick Roy stopped 4 of 5 shots. The unthinkable had happened - Hasek had done it again. Dominik Hasek was playing the role of giant killer in Nagano.

The gold medal game showcased a young Russian squad against the Czech Republic. The Russians had handed the Czechs their only loss, a 2-1 win during the round robin. Again, the Czechs were underdogs, and this time Hasek had to face the hottest shooter in the Olympics - 9 goal scorer Pavel Bure.

The Czechs checked and Hasek was perfect. He posted another shutout, as the Czechs won their first Olympic hockey gold medal, 1-0.

Hasek was simply unbeatable. His performance on the world's biggest stage, and established himself as hockey's new best player.


Following the Olympic break Hasek returned to NHL action and finished out another amazing season. He posted a record of 33-23-13 for the underdog Sabres. He recorded 13 shutouts, a .932 save percentage and 2.09 GAA. Hasek would add his second Hart and Pearson trophies in as many years, and also picked up his 4th Vezina trophy.

Unlike in the past, Hasek and the Sabres found some playoff success in 1998 as well. The Sabres played into the Eastern Conference finals before bowing to the overtime magic of the Washington Capitals.

The Sabres were a hard working, lunch pail team without a lot of skilled players or scoring superstars, but with perhaps the greatest goalie ever in nets, the Sabres were destined to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Their chance came in 1999.

The Sabres had a fantastic season, again led by Hasek's Vezina-worthy season. Hasek went 30-18-14 with 9 shutouts, a GAA of a minuscule 1.87 and a career best .937 save percentage. Hasek stepped up his play in the playoffs as the Sabres, blessed with some timely scoring, knocked off the Leafs, Hurricanes and Senators to earn the right to challenge the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup final.

Despite Hasek's 1.77 playoff GAA and .939 save percentage, the Sabres would fall controversially short in their bid for their first Stanley Cup.

All season long the NHL had strictly enforced a rule that prevent players from entering the goalie's crease. The play was to be whistled dead if any player occupied any of the blue ice without the puck having previously entered the area.

The rule was a disaster. So many goals had to be reviewed, taking out a lot of the crowd's enthusiasm whenever a goal was scored. Many goals were reversed for the tiniest of infractions. The players didn't like it. The coaches didn't like it. Most importantly the fans didn't like it. Only the goalies liked it.

When Hull scored the Stanley Cup winning goal, his left skate (perhaps more accurately a toe or two) was in the forbidden blue paint. But lost in the overtime euphoria of the Stanley Cup winning goals was the proper video review of the goal. The NHL's season-long zero tolerance policy likely would have disallowed the goal. But with celebrations ensuing and the dejected Sabres retreating, the NHL did not have the guts to call down and disallow the goal.

The raging controversy overshadowed two great teams in the finals.

Hasek would play two more years in Buffalo, though a nagging groin injury meant the Sabres window of Stanley Cup opportunity had essentially closed. Hasek, who at times had a love-hate relationship with fans, did not endear himself to Sabres faithful when he demanded a trade and bolted town for Detroit, publicly declaring he wanted to go to a winning team. But his time in Buffalo was simply spectacular. With 6 Vezinas in 7 years, 2 Harts, 2 Pearsons, 1 Stanley Cup finals appearance and 46 shutouts, no goaltender had ever reached a higher zenith for such a long period of time.


The Wings were definitely a winning team, but Hasek made them better. In his first season in Detroit he posted a career high 41 wins against just 15 losses, helping the Red Wings earn the regular season championship. Despite the long season due to another Olympics, Hasek's play never wavered and he carried the Wings past the Vancouver Canucks, the St. Louis Blues, the Colorado Avalanche, and the Carolina Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup. He posted a NHL record six shutouts that spring.

With his Stanley Cup ring on his finger, Dominik Hasek had accomplished it all. He announced his retirement and his intention to return to the Czech Republic where his legendary status was undoubted.

The absence of hockey in his life created a deep void for Hasek, and he decided to return to the NHL again in 2003-04. By doing so, he placed the Detroit Red Wings in a difficult situation. Hasek still had a contract for $8M and a no trade clause. But they also had Curtis Joseph and Manny Legacy on the roster. The situation was resolved when Hasek was forced to sit out much of the season due to a severe groin injury. To his credit, he refused much of his salary that season due to his inability to play.

After season ending surgery and a summer of rehab, Hasek was determined not to end his career that way. He would sign on with the Ottawa Senators in 2004. Given his advanced age and recent injury history, Ottawa was taking a gamble. That gamble never paid off, as Hasek missed the remainder of the regular season after injuring his groin again after just 9 minutes of play at the Olympic games.

Detroit took a similar gamble on Hasek in 2006-07, bringing back Hasek. For two seasons he was able to stay injury free, but would lose his starting job to fellow veteran Chris Osgood. In 2008, Osgood led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup. Hasek had to watch from the bench.

Hasek was a great teammate during what must have been a difficult time for him. He wanted to end his career by winning the Stanley Cup, but he did not expect it to be in this fashion. Regardless, he was a Stanley Cup champion yet again.


When all is said and done Hasek posted a 389-223-82 record overall with Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa, with 81 shutouts and a career goals against average of 2.20. He is tied for sixth in shutouts and 10th in wins. The numbers are made even more impressive by the fact Hasek didn't come to North America until seven years after he was drafted, not gaining a foothold as an NHL starter until age 28.

There is little doubt that his resume ranks him as one of the greatest goalies of all time. Comparing goalies from different eras is almost impossible, but Hasek had Patrick Roy as a great peer in an era where the art of goaltending evolved to a perfected science.

Let's compare Hasek to Patrick Roy:

Patrick RoyDominik Hasek
Playoff Games247119
Playoff W-L151-9465-49
Playoff GAA2.32.02
Stanley Cups42
Olympic Golds01
Smythe Trophies30
Hart Trophies02
Vezina Trophies36

Who was better? That will likely be an eternal debate. Most people will side with Roy for his playoff success and consistency. Hasek had the Olympic gold and international resume, but his career started late and perhaps he hung on too long.

But even if I were to concede Roy was the better goalie over the course of a career, I firmly believe no goalie in hockey history had as high a peak performance than "The Dominator." And he did it for years during Patrick Roy's reign.

1 comment:

sd said...

Speaking of the Buffalo Sabres, there some theories here and there about a curse who hit the Sabres as well as the Bills in the NFL as one guy mentionned in this forum. http://fans.sabres.nhl.com/community/topic/45122-curse-of-buffalo-why-do-we-continue-to-suffer/.

Strangely, the Bills had won 2 championships in the AFL before its merge with the NFL and the former AHL team, the Buffalo Bisons did win the Calder Cup 5 times.