|A Goaltending Legend Checks Out: Dominik Hasek Retires|
|Did Dominik Hasek's NHL career change the game of hockey, or was he one of a kind?|
Dateline: June 26/02
By the time he joined the Detroit Red Wings last summer for his first and only Stanley Cup season, most hockey fans had grown accustomed to his skittish, fish-out-of-water style. Now, as Dominik Hasek retires, it's easy to forget what a remarkable departure he was from just about any NHL goalie who came before him.
Through the generations, no single aspect of hockey has evolved and advanced more than stopping the puck. You only have to go back about 15 years to see goaltending that looks ancient by today's standards. To a contemporary fan, the NHL goalies of the 1980s look like slight men in small pads. Most of them stayed on their feet in almost all situations and on highlight reels they often allow goals that would be unforgivable by today's standards.
It was not so long ago. One of the better NHL goalies of the 1980s was Patrick Roy, who led Montreal to the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 1986 and subsequently revolutionized the position. The butterfly style - in which a goaltender drops to his knees and splays his legs like butterfly wings - predates Roy. But he became the poster boy, turning the butterfly into the game's most popular goaltending method.
Dominik Hasek joined the NHL in 1990, and was 29 years old by the time he became a number one starter and won his first Vezina Trophy. In his early days Hasek looked like a desperate man in a desperate panic, with no plan and no technique. We soon began to see the method in his madness, but his form always escaped categorization and definition. He had his patented moves - dropping his stick to grab the puck, lying on his back to cover the bottom of the net, charging from his crease to corral a loose puck - but he was also a freestyler. How much of a great Dominik Hasek game was calculated and how much improvised remains a mystery, perhaps even to him.
A couple of his moves have entered the goalie lexicon. You occasionally see another 'keeper flipped on his back, arms and legs flailing like an up-ended beetle. And Hasek made the position much more aggressive and proactive. But unlike Roy, he was not the kind of goaltender to spawn legions of imitators. Anyone who wants to be like Dominik has to find a unique style, because it was singularity that defined his career.
There were as many lows as highs in that career. The cash-strapped Buffalo Sabres never surrounded him with a true Stanley Cup team, and when things did not go well he often seemed to sulk, even give up. He made many highlight packages with his temper tantrums and the embarrassing swan dives and belly flops he took to draw penalties.
Hasek's reputation as a flake tended to obscure his athleticism and pure skill. But no one will forget his competitiveness, ability to play under pressure and arcane sense of where the puck is and where it is going. When you saw Dominik Hasek for the first time, he appeared to be the luckiest goaltender alive. You soon realized that luck did not have a lot to do with it.
Hasek peaked in 1998 and 1999, when he won an Olympic gold medal and took a passable Sabres team to the Stanley Cup final. He has not been quite so dominant lately. But he was good enough to backstop a Stanley Cup winner this spring, and at the age of 37 has picked a good time to leave the game. The next time we see Dominik Hasek will be likely be in 2006, when he is elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.