Sabres raise Hasek’s name and No. 39 to arena rafters
BUFFALO, New York (AP) — Without his mask and pads, Dominik Hasek felt uncomfortable on the ice as his No. 39 was retired by the Buffalo Sabres in a pre-game ceremony on Tuesday.
The former goaltender nicknamed ‘The Dominator’ should be getting accustomed to public speaking three years into his retirement following a 16-season NHL career.
After having his No. 9 retired in his Czech Republic hometown of Pardubice last year, followed by a Hockey Hall of Fame induction in November, Hasek was back in Buffalo to take part in his latest honor.
“To play hockey was much easier,” Hasek said in a center-ice ceremony on Tuesday. “Any time I’m standing in front of so many people, not as a hockey player, but as a person, it’s definitely much more difficult.”
The Sabres paid tribute to their star goalie in a banner-raising ceremony before their home game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Hasek played for both teams, and won Stanley Cups with Detroit in 2002 and 2008.
Buffalo, however, holds a special spot in his heart. It was during a nine-season stint with the Sabres when Hasek established his reputation as one of the NHL’s best, and revolutionized the art of goaltending with an unorthodox flopping style.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the sound of Sabres fans cheering,” Hasek said. “Sabres fans are one of a kind and having your support means as much to me as any trophy that I have won.”
One fan yelled out: “We love you!” Another yelled: “We need you back!”
The banner hung above the Sabres’ zone, and will eventually join the six others honoring team greats in the northwest end of the arena. The Sabres also honored Hasek by having his number painted behind both nets.
One of his fondest memories was in 1998, after leading the Czech Republic to the gold medal at the Nagano Winter Games. Returning to Buffalo, Hasek was amazed at being greeted at the airport by thousands of cheering Sabres fans.
“It was something that I will never forget,” he said. “And that’s why I feel like a big part of Buffalo.”
Hasek began his career in Chicago, before being traded to Buffalo in August 1992.
He forced his trade to Detroit in July 2001 because he wanted a shot to win a championship at a time when the Sabres were entering a rebuilding stage.He also spent the 2005-06 season with Ottawa.
After winning his second Stanley Cup with the Red Wings, Hasek spent two seasons playing professionally in Europe before formally announcing his retirement in 2012.
He was a two-time NHL MVP, six-time Vezina Trophy-winner and six-time all-star. Statistically, Hasek ranks first on the NHL career list with a 92.2 save percentage, is sixth with 81 shutouts, seventh with a 2.2 goals-against average and 12th with 389 wins.
“He was one of the greatest players to ever play the game,” said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who coached Hasek in Detroit. “He gave Buffalo an opportunity to win every night. He was an absolutely star, and did it his own way.”
Hasek’s competitive intensity set him apart. And that included practice, where Hasek hated giving up a goal.
“He never wanted to be scored on. It didn’t matter if it was the pre-game skate or practice and obviously not in a game,” Red Wings forward and former teammate Henrik Zetterberg said. “For me, as a younger player coming in, to see the battle he put in practice helped me to go even harder.”
Hasek’s influence particularly resonated back home, where he inspired numerous Czech youngsters to play goal. That includes Buffalo’s Michal Neuvirth and Detroit’s Petr Mrazek.
“He was my idol. I always wanted to be like him,” Neuvirth said.
Hasek never envisioned the dominant stamp he would eventually place on the game.
“It was unclear. I wasn’t confident,” Hasek said, recalling his arrival in Buffalo. “It took me a few years. But after a while, you feel more confident.”