PARDUBICE, Czech Republic – The Dominator is a greedy person on the ice. Dominik Hasek has won two Stanley Cups, two Hart Memorial Trophies, six Vezina Trophies and two Czech league titles. On the international stage he took Olympic gold and bronze and also won a silver and three bronze medals with his national team at the World Championships.
This year, the 45-year-old came out of retirement to play for his home town team HC Pardubice and immediately he backboned them to their second title since Hasek left for North America and fifth overall.
For sure it was a team effort. Just good goaltending doesn’t win you 12 straight playoff games en route to the cup.
Pardubice lost the first game in their quarterfinal series against Ocelari Trinec, but rebounded with four straight wins. In the semi-final they swept power house Liberec and in the final Vitkovice Ostrava suffered the same fate.
It wasn’t that fourth-seeded Vitkovice Ostrava were a bad team. Goaltender Jakub Stepanek perhaps did not stand on his head in the series as he has been doing all season long, but he remains one of the Czechs’ brightest new young stars.
Vitkovice had eliminated both Sparta and Slavia Prague en route to the final which was quite an accomplishment given their budget. Nevertheless, the team lacked the individual star qualities that Pardubice had on defence, like Ales Pisa (14 points and +8 ratings in the playoffs), and offence, Petr Sykora (12 goals and 16 points).
Immediately after the two finalists were known, the Czech media jumped on ‘the goaltending duel between past and future’.
To link Dominik Hasek with the past does make sense in the light of his last Czech title that came when the Bangles had their Eternal Flame. But history has learned journalists never to write off the Dominator. He will come back to haunt you.
Hasek outshone Stepanek in the series and posted incredible numbers. He only had a Goals Against Average of 1.24 and saved exactly 95 out of 100 shots, but perhaps his most important moment wasn’t a save.
Vitkovice was leading 2-1 with less than 10 minutes left to play when the team was awarded a penalty shot. Coach Alois Hadamczik looked at Victor Ujcik and signalled him to perform the task.
“As always I drove the puck on my stick and looked at the goalie,” Ujcik explained afterwards. “As Hasek can make some remarkable reflexes even when he’s down on the ground I wanted to bury the puck high.”
But he aimed too high and the rest is history.
Pardubice tied the game 82 seconds before the end via Ales Pisa and needed just 42 seconds in overtime to seal the deal. The Slovak tandem of Rastislav Spirko, with the assist, and Radovan Somik did the damage. “It was by far the most important goal of my career,” clamed Somik.
“I’m sure that if I had scored, we had won the game,” Ujcik cursed. “But there is no denying in that HC Pardubice deserves this title. Their defence stood like a wall and behind it excelled Hasek. Hats off to him. They won 12 games in a row, that’s no coincidence.”
HC Pardubice’s victory meant the end of a feverish season in the Czech Extraliga.
Last year’s champions Energie Karlovy Vary had a dramatic season which nearly ended in relegation. Eventually they saved themselves finishing 13th in the 14-team Extraliga. HC Plzen looked good for filling the hole left by Karlovy Vary. Led in scoring by veterans Tomas Vlasak, Petr Vampola and Martin Straka, Plzen dominated the regular season, but they surprisingly lost their quarterfinal series against Bili Tygri Liberec in six games.
The Prague dynasty is also showing some cracks. Sparta and Slavia Prague have exchanged victories in six out of the ten championships this decade. Only for the second time in that timeframe, neither of the teams managed to make the Extraliga finals.
It’s too early to preview the 2010-11 season already, but there are plenty of teams looking to avenge the current season. But they might have to face the Dominator again.
Based on his sparkling form this season, Hasek hasn’t ruled out to extend his career with another season. Although an injury ruled him out of contention for the Olympics, he regained his fitness shortly after and has looked rejuvenated.
Currently there is a strong lobby going on him to have him included in the Czech World Championship squad although the opinions are divided since the Czechs can already count on NHLers Tomas Vokoun and Ondrej Pavelec.
Hasek himself has been around for too long to get distracted by this media hype. “I’ve read the stories too and I believe the decision is already made. It’s a shame, but that’s life. It does give me a reason to play another season,” the goaltender says with a smile.
Pardubice and the Czech Republic will have to be patient to find out whether the legend will continue his career or not. Hasek has stated not to rush the decision, but certainly hasn’t ruled himself out for defending the Extraliga title next season.
For the fans his decision is not so imminent at the moment. Thousands of them awaited the return of the team by bus from Ostrava and celebrations went on till deep into the night.
On May 3, the annual Czech hockey player awards show is held and Dominik Hasek will be present. We can already draw out what that means.
- Much like the regular season, Slavia Prague’s Roman Cervenka also dominated the playoff scoring charts. In 16 games he posted 9 goals and 24 points holding a massive six point lead over second-ranked team mate Tomas Kurka.
- For Vitkovice Ostrava it was the first time since the 2001-02 season that the team reached the Extraliga finals. Back then they lost to Sparta Prague. Last year they were eliminated in the quarterfinals whereas they failed to make the post-season in 2007 and 2008.
- One of the reasons Vitkovice Ostrava made it to the finals is because of their goaltending. 23-Year-old Jakub Stepanek’s post-season numbers outrank all goalies. He stopped 527 out of 562 shots in 16 games which earned him the best save percentage of nearly 94 per cent.
- Several Czech players currently active in the NHL started their pro-careers with HC Pardubice. The most notable names are Milan Hejduk, Ales Hemsky, Petr Prucha and Jakub Kindl.
- Next season will mark the 60th consecutive year HC Pardubice will be playing on the highest Czech level. Just three years after the city built a new ice rink in 1947, the team got promoted to the highest league in the country and since then has never been relegated.