Martin Brodeur had one of the best seats in the house for one of one of Dominik Hasek’s finest hours.
It was 1998 in Nagano, the NHL’s first foray in the Olympics. “In that tournament, he was just unbelievable,” Brodeur told The Canadian Press on Monday after Hasek announced his retirement.
The Czech star stone-walled Team Canada in the semifinals with Brodeur watching it all as Patrick Roy’s backup. Hasek stopped Theo Fleury, Ray Bourque, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros and Brendan Shanahan in the shootout.
“I remember the shootout, guys had no clue what to do against him,” recalled Brodeur. “Guys had a mental block. He was the type of goalie that got into peoples’ heads a lot.”
Brodeur, Hasek and Roy are the three goalies that defined their position in the NHL’s modern era.
“Dom was one of the best goalkeepers in the National Hockey League,” said John Muckler, his former GM in Buffalo and Ottawa. “He’s up there with all the greats. It’s hard to separate all those people but he’s one of them.”
And like Roy, you can bet Hasek – a six-time Vezina Trophy winner – will be a first-time ballot pick when his Hockey Hall of Fame eligibility rolls around in three years.
He certainly leaves the game with the respect of those that once tried to score on him.
“Dominik Hasek was one of the most dominant goaltenders in the history of the NHL, as well as international hockey,” said Wayne Gretzky. “Just last season, he had another outstanding year and was among the league leaders.
“He revolutionized the position in many ways, and the fans and the game will surely miss him.”
While Roy changed the game when he perfected the butterfly style, Hasek’s unique moves also influenced a generation of goaltenders.
“We’re losing the guy that probably really changed goaltending,” said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. “He had his own unique goaltending.
“I mean, it was so non-traditional what he was doing. There was a lot of things that I think Dom was ahead of everybody on. Dropping his stick and grabbing pucks with his hand. Dropping the puck with his catching mitt and batting it out to centre ice.
“His flexibility from sitting there on the goal-line and being post to post – which was almost totally unheard of. People thought that he was double jointed. His flexibility was unbelievable.”
His style was in stark contrast to what other goalies were doing at the time.
“I appreciate a goalie like him,” said Brodeur. “In a way it’s similar to me, we’re not just one style of goalie. A lot of goalies come in now and they do the butterfly. It’s pretty obvious what they do on every save.
“But you know what, Dominik created saves, he made it happen out there for himself.”
Former Sabres captain Michael Peca said his former teammate was the “best goaltender in the world” for many years because he was a perfectionist.
“He worked extremely hard each and every day to perfect his craft,” said Peca. “Whether it’s letting guys shoot at his head from 10 feet out in practice to work on deflecting pucks with his head; or keeping a mental note on guys who scored on him in practice and then pulling them aside at the end of practice …
“Just a lot of little things went into him being great. He was just so focused each and every game. He was very vocal on the ice each and every game, each and every shift. As a teammate, he was exceptional to play with.”
Hasek won his first Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002 and another one last week with the Red Wings, but it’s in Buffalo that he became the Dominator.
And with good reason.
“I remember a Montreal playoff series (May 1998) where we swept them, we weren’t even close to being the team that Montreal was,” recalled Ruff. “We were getting outshot and outchanced and Dom was shutting them out. The chances in games were like 31-10.”
Peca, who scored the overtime winner in Game 3 of that second-round series, also remembers Hasek stealing that series.
“Especially those first two games in Buffalo, he was exceptional,” said Peca. “I remember countless times Mark Recchi and Vincent Damphousse could have put games away and Dom was there to do what he did at that time in his career. It really was a treat to play with him.”
Brodeur went toe to toe with Hasek in a classic playoff game on April 27, 1994, when the Sabres outlasted the Devils 1-0 in a quadruple-overtime affair that required 70 saves from Hasek.
“I remember that competition between me and him that night, that was really something,” said Brodeur. “He’s a guy that played the game hard, he was a real competitive goalie. He dominated in his era and won all those Vezina Trophies.”
Brodeur, a three-time Cup champion, said he was happy Hasek finally got his ring in 2002 with the Wings.
“Because when you play so long and you have so much success, people will always judge you about winning a Stanley Cup,” said Brodeur. “That’s just human nature. If you don’t win it, people have a hard time appreciating it as much as they should.”