Thoughts on Dom as Hasek enters Hockey Hall of Fame
As you go through life, there’s always moments where you take a figurative step backwards and say to yourself, “Man, I got old quick.”
Tonight will feature one of them.
Sabres legend Dominik Hasek, along with Peter Forsberg, Mike Modano and other hockey legends will be officially enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame tonight. The ceremony will be broadcast on NHL Network, and I’m really excited to watch.
These guys, these names, were names that were the stars of the game when I really got into hockey as a kid. They were the faces on the hockey cards I collected. They were the guys I traded for on NHL ’96 when I was trying to load up my team. They were guys I mailed letters to hoping to get an autograph in return. They were idols.
And now I’m old and they’re going into the Hockey Hall of Fame, an honor one only receives after time has passed since they’ve left the game.
Lots of time has passed since Dominik Hasek was here. It’s been just over 13 years since he quickly skated to the bench after allowing Darius Kasparaitis’ game winner in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinal against Pittsburgh, the last time he touched the ice as a Sabre.
It’s been almost as long since he forced his way out of town, orchestrating a trade to Detroit late in the night before he could have become a free agent.
In the time since then, and even before, feelings toward Hasek locally have remained conflicted. Many were upset that he chose to leave town. Some were upset that he found success elsewhere. And few have steadfastly let what may have happened off the ice support the denial of what he accomplished on the ice.
Hasek knew it was time to go when he did. He knew that he had to leave Buffalo to win, and whether or not he could sense the impending collapse of the Rigas ownership, he was right. While the franchise nosedived into bankruptcy, and teetered on the brink of leaving town, he went and won 142 games over five seasons with Detroit and Ottawa, including two Stanley Cups as a Red Wing.
Whether or not the feelings of being a jilted ex remain, there’s no logical way to deny what tonight says about his career. And time continues to heal old wounds.
Two months from now, his number will justly hang from the rafters at First Niagara Center. And once that happens, then we don’t have anything left to say, other than the fact that Dominik Hasek was the greatest player to ever put on a Buffalo Sabres uniform.
There’ll always be the old timers who look at Gilbert Perreault as the original Sabre, the franchise cornerstone from Day 1 that was the face of the franchise, as the best. He was a fine Canadian who was beloved. But when comparing resumes, and removing all bias, it’s not an argument.
Two time Hart winner. Six Vezinas. Six-time first team All-Star. Six All-Star Game appearances. Three Jennings Trophy wins. Two Lester B. Pearson Awards (now Ted Lindsay). Six-time league leader in save percentage. Those are just things that were determined by votes or statistics.
Hasek was absolutely unbelievable at his task. Watching him on a nightly basis is something I’m not sure Sabres fans will ever be able to truly appreciate. We can watch highlights now, just clip after clip of ridiculous unorthodox save after ridiculous unorthodox save, and marvel that there was a time that was routine.
It’s a shame that the on-ice success of the team was somewhat mild during his tenure, but if anything, that’s a reflection of how little he had to work with. He led the Sabres to a division title in 1996-97 with a supporting cast that was short on talent and a coach that we’ve come to know as strategically questionable. The Sabres were tweaked and improved each year, but never enough to get by without Hasek at his best.
Fortunately, for the Sabres, and fortunately for us, Hasek was usually at his best, and appreciating that made his tenure here even more special.
He may not have been great with interviews. He may not have gotten along with local media. He may not have had the type of attitude Buffalonians embrace. But he was gifted beyond anything we’ve ever seen from any athlete to grace this city.
Dominik Hasek’s legacy is set. Whatever you want to debate, however you want to feel about him, he’s now going to be Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek. And we were lucky to have him on our team for as long as we did.
When my family finally decided to buy season tickets in 1999, not only were they available (crazy, huh?), but there were choices. Arena seating maps are usually presented with an indication of where the home team shoots twice. Where you have a better chance of seeing a home team goal right in front of you. Those typically are the more desired seats.
We decided to get tickets in the other end, because we wanted to see Hasek for two periods instead. That’s where the action was.
In 2001, Hasek set up Hasek’s Heroes, to help bring the game of ice hockey to underprivileged inner-city youth. The program annually provides services and equipment to more than 500 children ages 4 to 17 free of charge. To donate or volunteer, click here.