That’s the nick-name John Gurtler immortalized his Sabres career with (his own, not Hasek’s), when he forever labeled Dominik Hasek with that moniker. (Gurtler currently serves as the Bandits’ radio play-by-play announcer, not to mention holding public address announcer duties for the Buffalo Bills – dang, Gurts, how many dream jobs are you going to hoard in this small town city?)
Anyway. Dominik Hasek, “The Dominator,” was something to behold when he played for the Buffalo Sabres. Really, it went beyond domination. Hasek had a widespread stranglehold on the NHL during his prime years with the Blue and Gold (and Black and Red), and goaltending in hockey would never be the same.
Stand-up and butterfly styles of tending the pipes were thrown alongside goalie sticks to the wayside (despite pleas from hockey purists such as Don Cherry of HNIC, who often described Hasek’s stick-less style of scrambling for saves as “searching for quarters on the ice).”
Tim Thomas, the odds-on-favorite to win the Vezina trophy this season, employs the “flop and scramble with severe furiousness but acute focus” style that Hasek introduced to hockey.
As long as we are on monikers, “The Great One” once called Hasek “the best player in the game.” This was after Dom dominated every single player in the hockey skating world at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, leading the Czech National team to its 1st and only gold medal. Without Hasek, the Czechs have since dropped off the map of olympic contention.
A few quick statistical career hits, which you all probably already know:
- From 1993 to 2001, he won six Vezina Trophies, throwing aside other legendary candidates such as Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
- In 1998, he became the 1st ‘tender to win consecutive Hart trophies, the “oldest and most prestigious individual award in hockey,” given to player judges most valuable to his team.
- Later, in 2002, Hasek became the first European starting goaltender to win the Stanley Cup. In the process, he set a record for shutouts in a postseason year.
- Hasek is actually the only goalie in NHL history to win the Hart Memorial Trophy twice.
- He holds the highest saving percentage in all time career (92.23%).
- And the highest saving percentage in a single season (1998–99) (93.66%).
Stats aside, just how good was this guy? From a fan perspective, he brought a sort of calming presence to the game experience. Be it a 4 on 2 rush, or a 3 on 1, or a breakaway, there was a defining certitude that Hasek would come up with the puck. And he usually did.
My jaw is still sore from watching slack-jawed his amazing performance in December of 1997. In the 1997-98 season Hasek set a franchise record with 13 shutouts, while playing in a career-high 72 games. In that month of December, he tied an all-time record for most shutouts in a month, with six. Six shutouts. In one month.
And he wasn’t such a bad guy.
“It was a tough time. Eddie was the starter, I was the backup. Fortunately, Mike traded me to Buffalo and it was good luck for me. Finally, I proved to myself I could be a starting goalie.”
That is Hasek on his trade to Buffalo, the trade that made his career. The player often vilified by the media as solely a demonstrative goaltender that quit on his team, and raced for greener (icier?) pastures in Detroit, where he would finally win that Stanley Cup, spoke like a hockey player. And that, simply, and tremendously, is what he was.
Don’t hold the old rep agianst him, folks. He was nowhere near the first, and nowhere near the last player to flee the organization – before Terrence Pegula walked in with his billions of dollars and with his priceless determination to keep all eyes on the prize at all costs. Terry wouldn’t have let him go, and it can be very safely assumed Dom would not have wanted to go. But that’s all what-ifs, and the past. Meanwhile, Pegula is bringing Hasek back to Buffalo for the present.
Pegula and Ted Black of the New Sabres have noted that Hasek is coming to Buffalo again, soon. It is likely to finally honor the “Dominator” with a great big banner numbered 39, finally raised up to the rafters, forever retired. Ex-owner Tom Golisano and partner Larry Quinn used to say they were waiting for him to eventually “professionally” retire (Hasek has continued to play in Russia’s KHL) before retiring #39, but then again promises from Golisano were many, (and we never did get to see Tom “eat his microphone”).
Golisano and Co. just never game him a damn break.
Hasek had the Sabres just two games away from winning that elusive Cup. Go ahead and try to name any other player from that 1999 team that meant as much on the ice as he did. Try to find video evidence of on-ice play that was superior – and more consistent – than this, during his tenure with Buffalo:
Gilbert Perreault fanatics, you are on the clock.
Dom, it’s been a long, long time.
Was it heartbreaking for fans when you left? Absolutely. Was it surprising, given Sabres’ history of dealing with star players? Absolutely not. Now that it is 2011, it’s long past due that we are reunited, at least for one last night.
I can’t wait to see you back in Buffalo, to take up your treasured black helmet and cage again, and maybe take off that black tape you put over the Sabres’ logo on the side.
His name, and his number, will soon be looming over the ice at HSBC. Unlike the French Connection, he’ll be alone up there in the rafters. Pat LaFontaine (who once called Hasek “the best goaltender I have ever faced on a breakaway”) will be his only peer from that era, playing alongside Dom until 1997.
Of course, Pat wasn’t there in 1999. And their banners will not hang in unison.
Now, with Hasek’s long awaited homecoming, and with the arrival of Pegula, hopefully #39 will finally be raised and reunited with his lonesome fans of WNY.
Alongside Pegula, hopefully his will be the last retired number up there to stand guard, alone.
Upwards to the ceiling, Dominator, you are well past your due.
NOTE: And don’t forget, “Hasek’s Heroes” is still absolutely alive and vital here in WNY.