PRAGUE – Although he wanted to continue playing, Dominik Hasek couldn’t find any takers. So at the age of 47, the Czech Olympic hero from Nagano 1998 and two-time Stanley Cup champion decided it was time retire.
Arguably, Dominik Hasek was the best goaltender in hockey during a period of almost 20 years.
After winning IIHF World Championship silver and bronze medals with Czechoslovakia in the ‘80s, Dominik Hasek won his first of six Vezina Trophies as the NHL’s Best Goaltender in 1993/1994, four years later he led the Czech Republic to the historic Olympic gold medal in Nagano 1998 (the first best-on-best hockey Olympics) and ten years later, in 2008, Hasek led the Detroit Red Wings to yet another Stanley Cup. At 42, this was Hasek’s last great success.
Hasek did not play during the 2008-2009 season but came back to represent his maternal Czech club, HC Pardubice, in 2009-2010. The next season, at 45 years old, he played 46 games with Spartak Moscow in the KHL, posting an incredible 2.48 goals against average and a 91.5 save percentage.
Since then, Dominik Hasek has been looking for other opportunities. He wanted to get a contract with an NHL club and was also prepared to play in the American Hockey League.
According to the Czech sports publication Sport, Hasek’s agent had talks with both the Vancouver Canucks and the Carolina Hurricanes. Hasek considered himself to be in good shape as he practised with the Czech Extraliga club HC Pardubice. But when none of the discussions resulted in any concrete contract offers, Hasek realized his time as an active hockey player had come to an end.
“It’s very sad,” Hasek told Sport. “But there is nothing you can do. I realized that it’s time to retire.”
The Dominik Hasek saga is probably one of the most amazing in modern hockey, and that goes for the international game, the NHL and European club hockey. According to goaltending gurus, he did nothing right with his largely “homemade”, unorthodox style.
But the experts could agree Hasek did one thing right. He stopped the puck.
Hasek jumped into the international scene as a 17-year-old and was only 18 when he led Czechoslovakia to a silver medal at the 1983 IIHF World Championship in West Germany. Czechoslovakia lost the gold medal to the Soviet Union on goal difference. This would be the closest Hasek would ever get to win the IIHF Worlds, the only major trophy he never won. This consequently prevented Hasek to become a member of the Triple Gold Club.
Hasek played in four Olympic ice hockey tournaments: Nagano 1998, Calgary 1988, Salt Lake City 2002 and Turin 2006. Although getting injured in his first game in Turin, he was still awarded with the bronze medal which the Czech Republic won after defeating Russia 3-0 in the bronze medal game.
But it was in Nagano when Hasek became a national hero and was globally recognized as the best goalie in the world. In the six games, Hasek posted an unreal 0.97 goals against average and a 96.1 saves percentage.
Although he was superb in the gold medal shutout of Russia (1-0), Hasek’s best game was probably the semi-final against heavy favourites Canada where he, after a 1-1 tie in regulation time, stopped all five Canadian shooters in an epic penalty shootout.
During this period in the late ‘90s, Hasek was so superior that he was not only considered as the finest goalie in the NHL, but also as the league’s top performer. Both in 1997 and 1998 he was awarded with the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
Hasek won three Vezina Trophies before Nagano and three after. His six Vezina Trophies came within a span of eight years (1994-2001). Only the legendary Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens’ dynasty in the ‘50s has won one more.
Apart from winning the Stanley Cup twice with the Detroit Red Wings, Hasek also took the Buffalo Sabres to the 1999 Stanley Cup finals where a highly controversial goal by Dallas Stars’ Brett Hull prevented Hasek and Buffalo reaching a decisive Game 7.
With his foot clearly in the goal crease, Hull was credited with what may forever be the most controversial goal in Stanley Cup history. It came in triple-overtime in Game 6 of the 1999 finals and ended the series.
Another outstanding record is Hasek’s six-time selection to the NHL’s First All Star Team, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2001.
It is just a matter of time before Dominik Hasek will be inducted to both the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and to the IIHF Hall of Fame.
Simply put, not other goalie had a more fitting nickname than “The Dominator”.