Czech hockey player
Dominik Hasek is routinely ranked by sports writers as one of the half-dozen greatest goalies in hockey's history. Although his style of goaltending seemed unconventional—with his arms and legs splayed outward to stop his opponents from scoring—Hasek racked up an impressive string of awards during his twelve seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL). A five-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as Best Goaltender in the NHL, Hasek also picked up two Hart Trophies as the league's Most Valuable Player. The sport's most prestigious award, the Stanley Cup, eluded Hasek until his final season in the NHL, when he helped the Detroit Red Wings become NHL champions in 2002. Outside the NHL, Hasek also claimed an Olympic Gold Medal as part of the Czech Republic's hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Games. Each of these accomplishments helped to maintain Hasek's image as "The Dominator," a nickname he earned for his commanding presence on the ice.
Top Goaltender in Europe
Born on January 29, 1965, Dominik Hasek grew up in the city of Pardubice, Czechoslovakia, as the Czech Republic was then known. His father, Jan, worked as a miner, a job that usually kept him away from home during the week. A fan of his town's hockey team, Tesla, Hasek always sought out the goaltender's position when he played with his friends. Even when he played soccer, Hasek insisted on being the goalie. At the age of six he tried out for a local hockey team and made the cut, in part because he was so tall for his age. Eventually,
Hasek grew to five feet, eleven inches; weighing less than one-hundred-seventy pounds, Hasek was a relatively slight as a hockey player, but his enormous flexibility and quick reflexes more than made up for his size.
Largely self-taught as a goalie, Hasek studied other goaltenders to learn defensive plays and strategies. Part of the junior champion Tesla team in 1981, Hasek was good enough to earn a spot on the Tesla senior team that same year. He ended up playing for the team for eight years, two of which ended in national championships for Tesla. Hasek's playing was so good that he was even selected in the 1983 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. Given the Communist Party's control over Czechoslovakia at that time, Hasek did not even learn about his draft until months later. The teenager decided not to try to leave Czechoslovakia, even though he had already begun thinking about playing in the NHL. Named the Czechoslovakian goaltender of the year for five consecutive years after 1986 and Czechoslovakian player of the year in 1987, 1989, and 1990, Hasek was widely considered to be the best European goaltender of the day.
Begins NHL Career with Blackhawks
The Blackhawks approached Hasek again in 1987 with a contract offer; with a mandatory year to serve in the Czechoslovakian military, however, Hasek again turned down the offer and instead played for the Army's hockey team, Dukla Jihlava, in the 1989-90 season. He also finished his university education with a degree in history. Ironically, just as Hasek was fulfilling his military obligation, the Communist regime that had ruled since 1948 finally fell. With the demise of the Berlin Wall and pro-democracy demonstrations arising all around eastern and central Europe in late 1989, Czechoslovakia finally withdrew from the Soviet Bloc. The changes also meant that Hasek and other athletes were able to pursue careers in North America without fear of reprisals against their families.
In 1990 Hasek finally joined the Blackhawks. With standout goalie Ed Belfour —who would win NHL Rookie of the Year and Vezina Trophy honors that season—already on the roster, Hasek played just five games for the Blackhawks that season. Instead, he was sent to the Indianapolis Ice for most of the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. The experience helped Hasek adapt his goaltending style to the smaller rinks of North America and also helped Hasek's family—wife Alena, son Michael, and later on, daughter Dominika—adjust to life in the United States.
After the Blackhawks traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in August 1992, Hasek hoped to get more time on the ice. An injury soon sent him out of commission and when the team signed goaltender Grant Fuhr, it seemed that Hasek's career faced insurmountable setbacks. When Fuhr was injured in November 1993, however, Hasek became the Sabres' main goaltender. He did not disappoint the team: finishing the season with thirty victories and twenty losses, Hasek led the league with a save average of .930. His goals-against average of 1.95 for the season was the lowest in the NHL since 1974. Although the Sabres did not make the finals, Hasek's contribution was recognized with the Vezina Trophy as best goaltender at the end of the season. He repeated the honor in 1995, from 1997-99, and again in 2001.
|1965||Born January 29 in Pardubice, Czechoslovakia|
|1981||Begins playing for Tesla senior hockey team|
|1983||Selected by Chicago Blackhawks in player draft|
|1989||Plays for Czechoslovakian Army's hockey team|
|1990||Signs with Chicago Blackhawks|
|1992||First of nine seasons with the Buffalo Sabres|
|1998||Leads Czech Republic hockey team to Gold Medal in Nagano Olympic Games|
|2001||Signs with Detroit Red Wings|
|2002||Detroit Red Wings win Stanley Cup|
|2002||Announces retirement as professional athlete|
Stanley Cup Quest
Although Hasek won the Hart Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the NHL in 1997 and 1998, his talent alone was not enough to take the Sabres past the playoffs to the Stanley Cup finals. Tensions between Hasek and the team's management fueled intense media speculation about his future with the Sabres, particularly after he was sidelined with an injury during the 1997 playoffs and then criticized for spending time with a Czech friend who played for an opposing team. Hasek found it ridiculous that he would be accused of sharing his team's secrets or faking an injury, as Buffalo News writer Jim Kelley alleged. After Hasek assaulted Kelley at the Buffalo Auditorium over the article, he was suspended by the NHL; the suspension coincided with his recovery period.
Despite his problems with the Sabres, Hasek was widely admired for his leadership of the Czech national hockey team at the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games. After making its way through a hard-fought semi-final match with Canada, the Czechs defeated the Russians in the final by one goal and took the Gold Medal. The win confirmed Hasek's status as a national hero in the Czech Republic and enhanced his reputation as a pressure player in the NHL. When he suffered another injury in the 1999-2000 season, however, there was further speculation that Hasek might retire from the NHL.
Hasek returned to the Sabres for a ninth season but surprised many observers by signing a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings for the 2001-02 season. It was clear that Hasek's decision was motivated by one factor: the desire to win the Stanley Cup. Since the mid-1990s the Red Wings had been perpetual contenders for the championship, and Coach Scotty Bowman was convinced that the addition of the Dominator to the lineup would ensure another win in 2002. Bowman was right; after compiling the best record in the league, the Red Wings took the Stanley Cup over the Carolina Hurricanes in the finals.
Already one of the most award-winning players in NHL history, Hasek could finally retire with a Stanley Cup victory added to his list of accomplishments. Although he was offered an estimated $8-$10 million to play for the Detroit Red Wings for the 2002-03 season, Hasek declined the offer. "Money wasn't an issue," Hasek said in a USA Today profile in June 2002 shortly after making the decision, "I worked so hard last year, and I'm just not sure I can compete at the level I expect from myself." Hasek did not announce any plans to remain active in the sport as a player, although coaching remained a possibility.
After Hasek declined to renew his contract with the Red Wings, he moved back to the Czech Republic with his wife and two children. Hasek's post-athletic career focused on his Dominator Clothing line of sportswear, which he had established a couple of years before. Hasek also used his celebrity for philanthropic ends. On a tour of the Czech Republic with the Stanley Cup in August 2002, Hasek raised money to assist victims who were devastated by major floods.
|CHI: Chicago Blackhawks (NHL); DET: Detroit Red Wings (NHL); BUF: Buffalo Sabres (NHL).|
A hero in his homeland for his gold-medal performance in the 1998 Olympics, Hasek could also take satisfaction in the respect he had earned from his NHL colleagues as one of the best goaltenders in the history of the sport. Part of the first great wave of NHL players from Europe to make a significant impact on the sport in the 1990s, Hasek also helped to broaden the appeal of the league beyond North America.
Burgan, Michael. Dominik Hasek. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
Diamond, Dan, ed. Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1998.
Dowbiggin, Bruce. Of Ice and Men: The Craft of Hockey. Toronto: Macfarlane, Walter, and Ross, 1998.
Allen, Kevin. "Goaltender Hasek's Persence Looms Large in Hockey World." USA Today (February 18, 2002).
Allen, Kevin. "Hasek Resists Wings' Pleas, Retires." USA Today (June 26, 2002).
Kennedy, Kostya. "Man of Mystery." Sports Illustrated (February 7, 2000).
St. James, Helene. "Wings Share the Cup Amid Czech Flooding." Detroit Free Press (August 15, 2002).
Stein, Joel. "Hockey's Flopper Stopper." Time (May 17, 1999).
"Dominik Hasek." Internet Hockey Database Web site. http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php3?pid=2187 (November 5, 2002).
"The NHL Dominator, Dominik Hasek, Retires." PRWeb Web site. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2002/7/prweb41280.php (July 1, 2002).
Sketch by Timothy Borden
Awards and Accomplishments
|1986-90||Named Czechoslovakian Goaltender of the Year|
|1987, 1989-90||Named Czechoslovakian Player of the Year|
|1994||William M. Jennings Trophy for lowest goals-against average in NHL|
|1994-95, 1997-99, 2001||Vezina Trophy as Best Goaltender in NHL|
|1997-98||Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player in NHL|
|1997-98||Lester B. Pearson Award as Player of the Year, National Hockey League Players Association|
|1998||Olympic Gold Medal in hockey (Czech Republic)|
|2001||William M. Jennings Trophy for lowest goals-against average in NHL|
|2002||Stanley Cup as NHL champion (Detroit Red Wings)|