The 42-year-old Detroit Red Wings goaltender jabbers at teammates to get out of his sightlines, to chase a puck into a corner, or to move an opponent away from his crease. “‘Must see’ – I hear that a lot,” says Nick Lidstrom.
Detroit opens the Western Conference final against the visiting Anaheim Ducks on Friday, and Hasek is a big reason why the Red Wings made it this far.
He’s regained his nickname.
He’s The Dominator again, just like he was the last time Detroit won the Stanley Cup, in 2002.
Last year, Hasek was The Distraction as a bystander with the Ottawa Senators after injuring a groin at the Olympics.
When Ken Holland brought Hasek back last autumn, a lot of people wondered if the Wings GM had lost his mind. Hasek was done. He was toast. Over the hill. Or so some thought.
“The difference is that he’s been healthy,” says teammate Chris Chelios. “He got hurt last year. He’s not hurt this year. He’s a great goaltender.”
Near the start of the season, Hasek agreed to come back to the Red Wings in a US$750,000, one-year deal. He’s been worth millions so, because of his ongoing impact, he’s being referred to as the biggest bargain in the league. That’s life, he says without bitterness.
“I accepted the offer because of the time of the year and because the previous year I got injured,” he says. “We agreed on the small contract with bonuses. I am not angry at all.”
Don’t feel obliged to hold any tag days for Dom. He’s receiving bonuses for each playoff round won by the Red Wings, and he’ll pocket an extra $1.1 million in all if they go all the way.
The skinny Czech goalie gets angry and scolds himself when he screws up.
“You have to find whatever motivates you so, if you let in a bad goal and get angry and you feel that gets you into the game more, then you do it,” Hasek said after practice Wednesday. “I try to do whatever motivates me the best.”
He even throws the odd profanity at himself but, usually, he works on maintaining full focus on the task at hand while watching the play.
“Sometimes I talk to myself,” he said. “I just say a few words.
“I might say to myself, ‘Get ready.’ ‘Watch the puck.’ ‘Be ready all the time, that’s what you’re here for.’ Sometimes I look at the fans and smile.”
Lidstrom wants him to keep talking.
“When he’s talking a lot, he’s on top of his game, and he’s been doing that throughout these playoffs,” says the Red Wings captain.
Hasek’s style of goaltending is difficult to define. He suggests no word for it himself. He uses the butterfly leg spread that long ago became the rage, and he also flops around as if he’s trying to make snow angles on the ice.
“I do anything to stop the puck,” he says. “It doesn’t matter how I am described.
“I like to always be in the right position. Unfortunately, there are times you are not in the right position and you have to jump and do whatever you have to do to reach the puck. I don’t care how my style is described as long as I stop the puck.”
Lidstrom lunged to stop a shot for him when he was out of position during the last game of the previous series. Hasek was them overheard muttering to himself.
“Anytime he has a bad game or lets in a bad goal he gets mad at himself and he wants to respond with a better effort,” says Lidstrom. “He’s been stepping up unbelievable here in the last couple of games.
“He’s such a competitive guy, you don’t have to do a lot to get him going. Just try to score on him in practice, that’ll make him mad. His competitive nature really comes out when he lets a bad goal in.”
Holland says he’s leaning towards re-signing both Hasek and the 45-year-old Chelios.
“We’re in the final four,” he says, suggesting there’s no need to rip apart a winning lineup.
Besides, he doesn’t care how old they are.
“We’re not concerned with a player’s age,” says Holland. “We’re only concerned about how the player performs.”
A lesson 10 years ago drove the point home, he explained. Scotty Bowman wanted Slava Fetisov, who wasn’t playing much in New Jersey, and the Wings got him for a third-round draft pick.
“I was thinking, ‘What are we doing bringing in a 37-year-old defenceman and giving up a draft pick?”‘ Holland recalled. “Then we won the Stanley Cup two years in a row and I wasn’t thinking about it much at all.”
Hasek says the Red Wings’ strong defensive play – emphasized by coach Mike Babcock – has made his a strong club.
“This team had problems in the first round the last few years so we are highly motivated, and we work hard for 60 minutes,” says Hasek. “We were down sometimes against the Sharks and we never gave up.”
Now there’s another challenge.
“We were satisfied to beat the Sharks but we woke up the next day and started to think about the Ducks,” said Hasek. “We are not satisfied.
“Our goal wasn’t to reach the conference final. We want more. We are motivated to get to the Stanley Cup final. You can’t ask for better motivation than to win against the Ducks and get to the Stanley Cup final.”
So, here they are again.
The Detroit Red Wings were supposed to fade when Steve Yzerman retired and Brendan Shanahan skipped town last summer. They’d be overtaken by an up-and-coming Nashville team in their division, and signing Hasek didn’t excite anybody in the Motor City. But, all along, the players were sure they could be a top team.
“I signed with the Wings because I felt this was a really talented team that had a chance,” says Hasak. “It wasn’t easy but it’s not a surprise to me we are in the conference finals.
“It doesn’t bother me what other people say. We do our job in this locker room and on the ice. We are a motivated team, a skilled team, and we believe we can win. It won’t be easy. The Ducks are a great team, as we are, but we believe that if we play well we have a chance to win.”
The Wednesday workout was optional, yet, Hasak, Lidstrom, Chelios, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi and Robert Lang were among veterans on the ice.
At one point, Hasak was shaking his head in dismay because a puck eluded him.
“Goaltending is the greatest equalizer in our game,” Babcock said when asked about Hasak. “We’re in a situation where we’re allowed to make a mistake and still survive and that’s a positive thing.
“Chelly says it best: ‘We’ve got the Dominator.’ He gives our team confidence.”
Hasek has a career 1.97 goals-against average in playoffs, which is second-best among those with 100 or more appearances. New Jersey’s Marty Brodeur is first with a 1.93 GAA. Third is Turk Broda (1.98) followed by Jacques Plante and Ed Belfour (2.17).