Two greats, separated by 200 feet, stood firm between the pipes matching each other save for save. As a scoreless game entered its seventh period, the New Jersey Devils continued to pepper the Buffalo Sabres‘ goal. N0. 39 refused to let Buffalo sink quietly into the murky waters of Lake Erie, making 70 saves in a 1-0 victory. That four overtime grudge match with Martin Brodeur in the spring of 1994 embodied the player Dominik Hasek was on the ice. Hasek would literally stand on his head in order to give his team the opportunity to win. As his No. 39 raised to the rafters at First Niagra Center, the City of Buffalo and the NHL celebrated a man who not only revolutionized the position he played, but inspired and provided younger generations with the opportunity to play the game he loves.
As the clock struck 7:00, the 19,000 fans that jammed into a soldout First Niagra Center on a frigid night viewed the Jumbotron with anticipation. As they “rolled the highlight reel,” one couldn’t help but realize that The Dominator’s (Hasek) flopping was not just sheer luck, but an art form that would transcend the game. These elaborate dives were not done at random, but were well thought out. Hasek’s tremendous hockey IQ allowed him to stay one step ahead of the shooter, always positioning a body part in front of the puck. The Dominator put his head on the line nightly, literally, as he was the first goalie to incorporate the header in his arsenal of saves. With a slinky-like spine, Hasek continued to invent ways to deny frustrated shooters. Among his many methods of stopping the puck was his patented snow angel.
The snow angel is a deceptive move in which the goaltender relies more on intelligence than athleticism. While most believe this type of save to be lucky, it’s actually an art form predicated on knowledge. The snow angel was displayed on a global stage in Nagan0 in 1998. Hasek executed the move to perfection on Eric Lindros in a shootout victory over Team Canada while leading his native Czech Republic to Olympic Gold. To do so, he had to deny Lindros access between his legs by falling to one knee and placing his paddle flat along the ice. Lindros, like most shooters, countered by deking to the blocker side, forcing Hasek to extend his paddle along the ice until he could reach no further. It is at this juncture that the shooter most often believes the goalie to be beaten. Dominik Hasek showed the world that goalies were never beaten until the puck crossed the line. Hasek cemented the angelic move by rolling over, almost with his back facing the play. Utilizing his eyes to focus on the shooter’s hips, The Dominator was able to time the release of the shot. By doing so, he was able to maximize his chances to make a save while under extreme duress.
While speaking to the City he called home for nine years, the impact Dominik Hasek had on hockey, the community and future generations was evident and far outweighed any accolade received throughout his career. Hasek Heroes, the goaltender’s organization, provides underprivileged children in the Buffalo region with the opportunity to play hockey and pursue their life goals.
In addition to his charitable work, Dominik Hasek’s play inspired many to pick up a hockey stick. Many, including myself, grew up with a passion to play goal, attempting to imitate Hasek. Although no netminder will ever equate to Hasek, the aspects of No. 39’s game can be seen throughout the NHL. The NHL goalies who once admired him as kids from afar now lace their skates up and play in the very league he dominated.
For everything that Dominik Hasek has given us, the Buffalo Sabres and the NHL made sure that yesterday was about him. From sunrise, talk radio lines had their ears open listening the callers’ favorite memories the Dominator. The sun descended behind Lake Erie, illuminating Buffalo’s brightest star once more. The game between the Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo was insignificant. The night belonged to Hasek. As his no.39 took its rightful place amongst the pantheon of Sabre greats, one could only thank him for all he’d done and all he continues to do. Thank you Dominator.