After 16 seasons, Dominik Hasek is saying goodbye.
"I don't feel today that I'm ready to compete on the highest level," he said earlier today at a press conference. "Not because of the physical things, but because I need motivation every day. ... Right now I don't feel it's there, and I don't want to disappoint anybody."
Born in Pardubice, Czech Republic (then known as Czechoslovakia), Hasek had an interesting start in hockey. He didn’t have real skates; instead he had the blades that screw onto a pair of shoes. He was tall for a six-year old, so they stuck him in a group of nine-year olds who needed a goalie.
As a sixteen-year old, he joined the top league in Czechoslovakia and played for his hometown HC Pardubice of the Czechoslovak Extraliga and won two league titles in 1987 and 1989. The year after, he was drafted by the Czech Army to play for Dukla Jihlava.
He then played for the Czech national team. He was named the top player in the Czechoslovak Extraliga three times: 1987, 1989, and 1990. Hasek was also the Goaltender of the Year from 1986-1990.
Because the Iron Curtain was still in place, NHL teams were fairly reluctant to draft players who were unwilling to leave their country or were banned by their government from doing so. As a result, Hasek was selected in the tenth round (199 overall) in the 1983 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, the seventeenth goalie selected.
He didn’t even know he’d been drafted until a few months later.
The Blackhawks offered him a contract prior to the 1987-88 season, but Hasek rejected it, saying that he didn’t feel ready to leave for the U.S.
When communist rule ended in 1989, Hasek emigrated to the United States and began his career with the Indianapolis Ice of the IHL. He finally suited up for Chicago in 1990, eight years after they drafted him.
In Chicago, he was the back-up goalie to Ed Belfour, and only played 25 games over two seasons. After Chicago lost to Pittsburgh in the finals, Hasek was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
In Buffalo Hasek was the back-up again, first to Tom Draper, and then Grant Fuhr. When Fuhr was injured partway through the season, Hasek stepped in and quickly developed into a top goaltender.
In 1994, he won the first of six Vezina Trophies as well as sharing the William M. Jennings Trophy with Grant Fuhr.
The 1996-97 season was a another successful season, but is more likely to be remembered for his conflicts with then-coach Ted Nolan. In game three of the first round against the Ottawa Senators, Hasek removed himself and was replaced by Steve Shields. Hasek had suffered a right MCL sprain, and was pronounced day-to-day by the team doctor.
Several in the media, and even his teammates, suspected Hasek was using the injury to bail out on the team. When Jim Kelley of the Buffalo News approached Hasek after the game five loss in that series, Hasek attacked him. He received a three game suspension and a $10,000 fine as a result.
Shields backstopped the Sabres to a victory in the series against Ottawa. Hasek claimed his knee was still injured and did not play in the five-game loss to Philadelphia in the second round.
Nolan did not return to the team, and many fans blamed it on Hasek. The first six weeks of the season Hasek was booed so loudly that arena workers played tapes of fans cheering in an attempt to balance things out.
Hasek played well in the 1997-98 season and won back many fans. He won the Vezina again, along with the Lester B. Pearson, and the Hart Trophy for league MVP. He was the first goalie to win the Hart since Jacques Plante in 1962, and the only one to do it twice (he won again the following year).
1998 saw the Czech Republic win the gold at the Nagano Olympics, thanks in part to Hasek’s solid goaltending.
In 1999, Hasek captured his third straight Vezina with a 1.87 GAA and .937 save percentage. Though the team did not have a great season, the seventh seed Sabres made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Game six was the deciding game, and one of the longest in NHL history. The triple-overtime game only ended with Brett Hull’s famous foot in the crease goal and a Stanley Cup for the Dallas Stars.
In July of 2001, Hasek was traded to Detroit, where he posted 41 wins and 15 losses. On the way to claiming the championship that year, he became the first goalie to be awarded an assist on an overtime winning post-season goal and set a record for postseason shutouts with six. It was Hasek’s first Stanley Cup.
The following summer, Hasek announced his retirement, but after sitting out one season, he announced his comeback.
In 2003-04, he injured his groin after 14 games. In February, he announced he was done for the season. Afterwards it was discovered he had refused about $3 million of his $6 million salary for that year because he didn’t play.
After surgery in 2004, his contract with Detroit had expired, and he signed with the Ottawa Senators. He played increasingly well for them until he was injured during the 2006 Olympics in a game against Germany. He missed the rest of the season and the postseason.
Despite his willingness to take a pay cut (he offered to play for only $500,000 plus bonuses) Ottawa did not resign him.
On July 31, 2006, the now 41-year old Hasek joined the Red Wings for the third time. He posted 38 wins while leading the team all the way to the conference finals, losing to the eventual winners, the Anaheim Ducks.
He signed one more contract with Detroit for one year, reportedly turning down $5 million in order to make room for other players.
During the 2007-08 season, Detroit decided to use Hasek and Chris Osgood as a tandem rather than designating a backup. Hasek was chosen as the starter in the play-offs, but two shaky performances in a row after the first two wins saw Hasek replaced by Osgood for the remainder of the play-offs. The Red Wings beat Pittsburgh in six games to win the Stanley Cup. Despite being benched, Hasek maintained his professionalism and supported his teammates.
Dominik Hasek retires ranked 10th all time for wins (389), 10th in GAA (2.20), 18th in games played (735), and is tied for 6th in shutouts (81). Considered a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, perhaps his greatest legacy lives on in Buffalo.
In March of 2001, Hasek donated $1 million to the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo in order to fund the Dominik Hasek Youth Hockey League, otherwise known as “Hasek’s Heroes.”
Designed to give inner-city kids the chance to develop basic skating and hockey skills, the league is now partnered with the public school system to promote life-long learning skills. The league now has over 250 members.