Empty Net: Hasek, one of the all-time greats, retires
BY HELENE ST. JAMES • FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER • June 10, 2008
Dominik Hasek didn't put much thought into how he threw his body around, how he dropped his stick and moved so fast he made people's heads spin. To him, it was all a means to an end that saw him become one of the greatest goaltenders in the game of hockey.
That career ended Monday, when Hasek, 43, announced it was time to say good-bye to the Red Wings, the NHL and hockey. He retired after leading the Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2002, as well, but this time there can be no doubt he means it.
"I just don't feel today that I am ready to compete on the highest level, not because of physical things but because I need motivation," Hasek said during a news conference at Joe Louis Arena. "I never had regrets for first decision I made, and I don't have any regrets for decision I am making today. I am maybe more happy this time."
Hasek played 16 seasons in the NHL, starting with a brief stint in Chicago before moving on to Buffalo where from 1994 to 2001 he won six Vezina trophies as the NHL's top goaltender and where he also became the first goalie to win consecutive Hart trophies, in 1997 and 1998. Together with Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy, the three formed the holy triumvirate of goaltenders.
Hasek was renowned for his unorthodox style, mixing butterfly with flopping and extending his stick across the ice.
"He was a hard guy to shoot against," former teammate and current team vice president Steve Yzerman said, "because you didn't know what kind of things he was doing. He was one of the first guys who put his stick and blocker right down on the ice to take away the bottom. That may be his biggest influence. That was the most unusual new technique I had seen."
Teammates often used to laugh, especially after victories, about the way Hasek would yell "must see, must see" during games, knowing the louder Hasek spoke, the more he was into games. He was also ferociously intense during practices.
"He had a different kind of style stopping the puck," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said, "but he knew what he was doing. He was such a competitive guy. That came out every day in practice, too."
Hasek shared his decision with Lidstrom on Friday, and he told other teammates during several parties over the weekend. Many of those teammates gathered for his news conference Monday, including Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Henrik Zetterberg, Brian Rafalski and Kris Draper.
"We were drinking Saturday or Sunday, and I talked to the players I spend most of the time with the last few years," Hasek said. "Nick asked me if I wanted the whole team around me, and I said I didn't know. But it's very nice, and I appreciate it. I was so thankful they were here."
The decision had been formulating in Hasek's mind all playoffs and was 95% made, he said, Wednesday night when he kissed the Cup after the Wings eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins. All that was left to do was sleep on it for two days.
"I know it's 100% right to say good-bye," he said. "During playoffs, I was already sure it was my last season."
Even if Hasek had not been pulled after struggling in Game 4 of the first round, the decision wouldn't have changed.
"No, not at all," Hasek said. "Actually not being in the net is something that could maybe motivate me even more. But no, it had nothing to do with it."
Hasek rued not playing another game, but Chris Osgood's solid play made moot any talk of putting Hasek back in goal.
"I was more disappointed as the next series continue and I never get a chance to come back to the net because I felt very good about my body and everything in practice," Hasek said. "I felt so good, and I felt like I should get a chance again to be back in net. But the coaches felt different way.
"I was sitting with Cheli talking yesterday, and he was disappointed also because he didn't play in the finals. But in the end he said it's all about winning the Cup, and we were happy to drink from the Stanley Cup again. So yeah, it was disappointing. But I understand Ozzie played well and was winning most of the time."
Hasek played three separate stints with the Wings. When Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier called Detroit general manager Ken Holland in the summer of 2001, Holland jumped at the chance to get Hasek, a move that paid off when Hasek led the Wings to the Stanley Cup the next spring. He began the playoffs by overcoming a 2-0 deficit to Vancouver, which made a lasting impression on team owner Mike Ilitch.
"It was a brutal series, and Dominik was absolutely sensational," Ilitch said. "They wouldn't call any penalties. They let everything go. It was like a jungle, and he just stood on his head. I'd never, ever seen a goalie perform like he performed in 2002."
Hasek retired after the 2002 championship only to change his mind a year later. His second stint with the Wings was a disaster. The Wings had signed Curtis Joseph to replace Hasek, but given Hasek's stature there was no question of not picking up his option in the summer of 2003. Hasek and Joseph did not get along, and to make matters worse, Hasek played only 14 games before being sidelined by a groin injury.
When his contract expired in the summer of 2004, Hasek signed with Ottawa. During the 2005-2006 season, Hasek posted the NHL's second best goals-against average and save percentage up until the 2006 Winter Olympics. He got hurt while playing in Torino for his native Czech Republic, and things soured fast with the Senators when Hasek couldn't play another game for them.
In the summer of 2006, Hasek's agent first pursued the Wings and then talked Hasek into another comeback. Both sides were interested in a reunion, and Hasek came back on a one-year, $750,000 deal that included $1 million in bonuses. A strong playoff run led to another contract for $2 million in salary, with up to $2 million in bonuses.
"Dom has always worked his contract to make it as easy as possible for us to fit him in," Holland said. "He's Dominik Hasek. He's one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the game. We've done a lot of winning with him in the net. It was an easy decision always to consider bringing him back."
Holland recruited several players to help talk Hasek out of retirement in 2002. Six years later, everyone concedes this is it.
"I asked him if he had thought it through," Lidstrom said, "and he said he had been talking about it with his family for a few months. He was very happy with his decision."
Hasek, his wife and their daughter are moving back to their native Czech Republic, where Hasek will concentrate on growing his Dominator line of athletic clothing. Hasek's son, Michael, will enter Michigan State this fall.
Hasek spoke Monday of wanting to excel at whatever his future holds. It is that intense competitiveness that has created a legacy of such uniqueness -- though it's one Hasek shies away from parsing.
"I never played hockey to think about the impact on hockey," Hasek said. "It was all so natural. I just started to do something because it worked in my game, like throwing the stick. I wasn't a person who studied other goalies. I played hockey because I love to compete. There is no better feeling than to win the game and then be surrounded by your teammates in the locker room."
It is a feeling he had last week, for one last time.
Contact HELENE ST. JAMES at 313-222-2295 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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