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Thursday, October 11, 2012
Dominik Hasek continues to do it his way

By Scott Burnside

Hockey fans will all remember Hall of Fame bound netminder Dominik Hasek for his sprawling, Gumby-like saves, his propensity for dropping his stick and grabbing the puck with his blocker and occasionally using his melon a la Pele to keep his team in the game.

But thanks to longtime Detroit Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard we also imagine Hasek, who formally announced his retirement at age 47 this week, standing next to McCovey Cove outside AT&T Park in San Francisco hoping to snare a Barry Bonds homer.

“He was crazy about Barry Bonds,” Bedard recalled.

Baseball outings were part of the routine for the Wings’ goaltending team, especially during the team’s annual playoff run since the last lockout.

Hasek, Manny Legace or Chris Osgood, sometimes Jimmy Howard or Joey MacDonald, depending on who had been called up from the AHL at the time, Bedard and often some of the training staff would all pore over the baseball schedules, depending on who the Wings were facing at that point in the playoffs.

There was a trip to see the Dodgers while the Wings were playing the Ducks in Anaheim. And to San Francisco during a series against the San Jose Sharks.

Hasek ended his NHL career with the Red Wings, his second stint with the team, in 2008 as backup to Osgood, who backstopped Detroit to a Stanley Cup championship that spring.

In spite of being supplanted as starter, Hasek remained a faithful supporter of Osgood and a diligent worker in practice.

At that point, Hasek was secure in his position as one of the greatest of all time. He'd already won a Cup with the Wings in 2002. He’d won a gold medal with the Czech Republic in 1998, stunning Canada in a shootout in the quarterfinal. He'd earned six Vezina Trophies and back-to-back Hart Trophies in 1997 and 1998, becoming the first goaltender to earn multiple MVP honors. He was also the runner-up for the Hart, in 1994.

When Darcy Regier took over as GM of the Buffalo Sabres in June 1997, Hasek was in his prime. Hasek was pivotal in keeping the small-market Sabres competitive, leading them to the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, only the second time in franchise history the Sabres have qualified for a Cup finals.

"For us, he was all-important at that time," Regier said this week.

Beyond the importance to the Sabres and his eye-popping statistics, Regier said he thinks Hasek deserves recognition for the creativity he brought to the position as a whole.

"He was beyond his time with respect to how to play the position," Regier said. "He was just an exceptional goaltender."

Bedard agrees.

"Dom threw the book out the window that you don’t have to play a certain way to be successful," Bedard said. "There was almost never a standard Dominik Hasek save."

At a time when the position was dominated by Canadians, Hasek opened the door to a generation of European goaltenders with his unorthodox yet consistently spectacular play.

The fact Hasek was, until recent days, contemplating a return to the NHL in his late 40s merely reinforces the kind of will to win that the native of Pardubice had.

Was Hasek sometimes difficult?

Sources told ESPN.com Hasek remains the only player who has had their day with the Stanley Cup celebration cut short due to bad behavior. And there was the infamous incident when Hasek tried to choke legendary Buffalo writer Jim Kelley over a column questioning Hasek’s mental toughness when Hasek was still with the Sabres. That earned Hasek a three-game suspension and a $10,000 fine. The netminder also feuded with former Sabres head coach Ted Nolan a dispute that contributed to Nolan's departure from Buffalo.

Regier acknowledged that Hasek was different in the way that many exceptional athletes or artists are different.

"Not in a bad way. Just that they’re different," Regier said.

He noted that many nights he could tell from the early moments of a game whether anyone was going to beat Hasek.

"He would be just so locked in. The game appeared to be in slow motion for him," Regier recalled. "It was just a pleasure to see that kind of performer and be around that."

As Hasek's NHL career was winding down in Detroit, Bedard recalled that Hasek never lost his desire to challenge himself.

"He was never satisfied if there was a puck [that beat him] that he should have had," Bedard said. "My toughest thing was getting him off the ice after practice."

Hasek was an exemplary teammate even when, at the end, he gave way to Osgood as the Wings’ starter.

"He was a good partner to Chris Osgood and Manny Legace. He didn’t feel threatened. The only person to threaten Dom was Dom. He was very aware of who he was and what he’d accomplished," Bedard said.

Bedard recalled the Western Conference finals in 2002 against Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche. Roy was considered (and still is, by some) to be the greatest money goaltender of all time. Hasek, who had never won an NHL championship, was keenly aware of that. In Game 6, Colorado head coach Bob Hartley called for a stick measurement on Hasek during a Colorado power play. It was the kind of moment that could have turned the tide in a deciding game. But the measurement failed and the Avs were penalized for delay of game. Hasek denied the Avs en route to a 2-0 victory and the Wings would go on to defeat Colorado in Game 7 and then defeat Carolina in five games, giving Hasek his first ring.

"That really fired him up," Bedard said of the stick measurement.

So, where does Hasek rank overall?

While declining to put a number on Hasek, Regier said he belongs among that very small group of netminders who are the game’s greatest. For Bedard, it’s Hasek and Brodeur, just slightly ahead of Roy.

Figuring in international play and NHL success, "those two guys, to me, they stand above."

Hard to argue that.