Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dominik Hasek heads to the Hall. Na Zdravi, Dominator

Reprinted with permission form hockeybuzz.com

In as much as Taro Tsujimoto is legendary in Buffalo and around the league for being a 10th round draft pick that never existed, tonight the NHL will induct a real Sabres' legend into the Hockey Hall of Fame, Dominik Hasek.

The Czechoslovakian native was drafted in the 10th round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft as an 18 yr. old by the Chicago Blackhawks but he was unable to come to North America because his nation was behind the Berlin Wall. When that fell in 1990, he began his trek to the Hall as backup to fellow rookie Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour for the Chicago.

Sabres General Manager, Gerry Meehan, who had goalies Darren Puppa, Clint Malarchuk and Tom Draper to work with at the time, saw an opportunity to land Hasek then proceeded to pull of the greatest Sabres' trade of all time. On August 8, 1992 he sent goalie Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round pick (Eric Daze) to the 'Hawks for Hasek.

Meehan set that deal up two months earlier via a trade with the original Winnipeg Jets. On June 15, he sent forward Christian Ruutu to the Jets for Beauregard. Three days after the Hasek deal, Beauregard would go back to Winnipeg and Ruutu, the player Chicago wanted all along, headed to the Windy City.

Tim Tierney of the Chicago Tribune wrote at the time of the trade, "For a team with a goaltending surplus, the Blackhawks' trade Friday that sent Dominik Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for goalie Stephane Beauregard doesn`t seem to help the Hawks. But there is more to this deal than a one-for-one swap.

"A source within the Hawks' organization confirmed a report the team would deal Beauregard, 24, to the Winnipeg Jets for former Sabres center Christian Ruuttu as early as next week. The Hawks tried to get Ruuttu from Buffalo last season."

At the time nobody really thought too much of the trade. Tierney would label it "a questionable deal from a rules standpoint" and he even got the draft position wrong when he wrote that Hasek was picked in the 11th round with the 207th pick.

The Hawks were set in goal at the time and only needed a backup. GM Mike Keenan was pretty forthright in saying that Belfour "has been the Hawk' No. 1 goalie the past two seasons. [He] is at the top of our depth chart."

Meehan, though, had gotten the goalie he coveted. "Hasek will be given the opportunity to be the No. 1 goalie," he said at the time. "We've liked Hasek for a long time. We've been trying to get the trade done since February or March."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

After backing up Grant Fuhr for the 1992-93 season, Hasek would control the crease for the Buffalo Sabres for eight seasons during which he earned "The Dominator" moniker. The Buffalo years, from 1993-2001, were the years he would essentially punch his ticket to the Hall.

During his time as a starter in Buffalo, Hasek won six Vezina Trophies, (second only to Jacques Plante's seven all-time,) two Hart Trophies and two Lester B. Pearson awards for MVP as voted on by his peers.

Hasek also won two Jennings Trophies while with the Sabres for lowest goals against average.

His first season as a starter in Buffalo was ridiculous and set the tone for his career. He won his first Vezina Trophy that year, was nominated for the Hart Trophy for the first time and was the first goalie since Flyers legend Bernie Parent in 1973-74 to post a sub 2.00 goals against average (1.95.)

The NHL stats and awards speak for themselves in North American, but Hasek also became a world wide hockey phenomenon when he lead his native Czechoslovakian team to the 1998 Gold Medal at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan. It was the first time in Olympic history that professionals were allowed to play.

In the semifinals Hasek outdueled Hall of Famer, Patrick Roy and the Canadian squad in a 2-1 shootout victory. During the shootout he stopped, Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque (HOF,) Joe Niewendyk (HOF,) Eric Lindros, and Brendan Shanahan (HOF.)

In an oddity, or complete oversight or maybe just blind devotion to "his plan," Canadian Olympic coach Marc Crawford didn't call Wayne Gretzky's name for the shootout. "When it comes down to penalty shots, you go with gut instincts," said Crawford at the time. "We prepared a list before the game."

The win over a heavily favored, superstar-laden Team Canada by Czechoslovakia was somewhat of a "Miracle" similar to the feat that the Americans pulled off in 1980 when they defeated mighty Soviets before going on to win the gold. Hasek, by the way, pitched a 1-0 shutout of the Russians in the finals.

For some, though, "The Dominator" will be remembered for the events leading to, and his departure from, Buffalo.

During the 1996-97 season when Ted Nolan was busy winning coach of the year and "The hardest working team in hockey" was winning it's first division title in 16 yrs., the bottom was beginning to fall out. The man who put this team together, John Muckler who won Executive of the year that season, was fired and replaced by Darcy Regier.

All of this came about in the off season after the Sabres travelled to the Ottawa Senators for Game-3 of their first round matchup earlier in the playoffs. Something was bothering Hasek as he deviated greatly from his normal pre-game routine and he would leave the game with a questionable knee injury. And in one of the quirks in his overly quirky hockey life, Hasek would eventually accost respected Buffalo News writer Jim Kelley for implying that Hasek faked his injury.

In hindsight what it seemed to boil down to was that the enigmatic Hasek simply wasn't happy playing for Nolan and that he wouldn't play another game under him. He didn't.

In the off season Muckler was fired and Nolan was low-balled by new Regier. Nolan walked and in stepped Lindy Ruff.

Despite the Sabres making it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, the winds of change were fiercely blowing at the foot of Washington St. The team Muckler fashioned was being dismantled and Buffalo was ousted in the first round of the 2000 playoffs. Captain Michael Peca held out over a contract dispute the entire 2000-01 season and was eventually traded to the NY Islanders, the team that drafted him.

Hasek began losing interest, it would seem, and in the 2001 playoffs the Sabres would bow out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Game-7 went to overtime with Hasek letting in a shot he usually saved with his eyes closed from noted NHL pest Darius Kasparaitis. He then skated directly from his crease in a fashion that said he was finished.

"The Dominator" had seen enough in Buffalo. According to Kelley, "As the Sabres were playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs, Hasek was on record saying he was upset that management had not made moves, particularly that they did not re-sign or trade captain Michael Peca who had been gone all season in a contract dispute."

Hasek demanded a trade and according to his agent, Rich Winter, he wanted to be traded to a contender which included the Red Wings, "because of their history, depth and experienced coaching staff." Hockeytown would gladly welcome him as they were in the throes of a "King of the Mountain" duel with the Colorado Avalanche. But, not only did Hasek demand a trade, he set the terms of it--nothing of immediate value to the Wings' Stanley Cup roster would go back in return. Hasek was traded for Viktor Kozlov and a 2002 first rounder.

It should be noted that Kozlov hated the thought of playing in Buffalo but managed to get through one injury plagued season for the Sabres while the first round pick (No. 30 overall) was traded along with Mike Pandolfo to Columbus for the 20th pick (Daniel Paille.)

Hasek would get his wish and add a Stanley Cup ring to his resume' that season with the Red Wings. He posted a 1.85 goals against average in 23 playoff games. He would add a second ring with Detroit in 2008 as a backup.

The wounds from that tumultuous 1997-2001 span took a long time to heal, but eventually time does what it does--heals all wounds.

In March of this year, in a precursor to his Hall of Fame induction tonight, Hasek was elected to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame while the team also announced that his jersey would be retired. No. 39 will take it's rightful place in the rafters in a ceremony on January 13, 2015 before a game vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

Nolan and Hasek buried the hatchet before the Buffalo Hall of Fame ceremony and it would seem as if any fans who still feel betrayed should bury it also. For those who watched him game-in/game-out he was a marvel.

It's time to take a look at Hasek for what he was--an enigmatic goaltending phenom, wrapped inside the riddle of the goalie mask who many, like me, consider the greatest goalie of all time.

Na Zdravi, Dominator

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