'When Goalies Were Weird' - Episode 1: Dominik Hasek 🎧
'When Goalies Were Weird' is a six-part narrative podcast about 1990s-era NHL goalies. In the '90s, the position was undergoing a revolution in style and substance, as the butterfly goalie replaced the stand-up while advancements in equipment technology helped usher in a modernized, more athletic playing style. The old guard's quirks and the new guard's innovations melded together to produce an era of pure chaos in the blue paint.
Dominik Hasek will go down as one of the greatest goalies of all-time and the most unusual. Few could have predicted the 199th selection in the 1983 NHL Draft from Pardubice, Czechoslovakia, would end up a hockey rock star in Buffalo and a six-time Vezina Trophy winner. This is his story.
(Note: This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.)
Hasek has one of those impeccable nicknames, right up there with "The Great One" for Wayne Gretzky, "The Rocket" for Maurice Richard, and "Mr. Hockey" for Gordie Howe.
What's been lost in time is that it took a few tries before the hockey world landed on "The Dominator." Former Blackhawks coach Mike Keenan called him "Dr. Dom" for a bit in Chicago. Broadcasters loved labelling him "Gumby." And, briefly in the early '90s, he was known as "The Count."
Yes, "The Count." Like Count Dracula.
"We're going on a road trip, and we're getting on the plane, and he had an overcoat. He did not put his arms through the overcoat. He buttoned the very top and, (like) back in medieval times, it looked like a cape," said Mitch Korn, Hasek's former goalie coach with the Sabres. "And one of the guys nicknamed him The Count."
"He did not like that," Korn added. "And it hung around until he got good. And when he got good, it disappeared in a hurry, replaced by The Dominator."
That anecdote describes Hasek to a tee.
In hockey's monolithic culture, he was a pretty weird dude, somebody who didn't fit neatly into one box. Unprompted, multiple teammates used "different bird" to describe Hasek's personality, with one hinting there were Hasek-isms not appropriate for public consumption.
That's not to say Hasek wasn't well-liked or well-respected. He was a good teammate, a leader by example, and, let's face it, his talent alone granted him instant credibility.
What made him stand out, though, was this interesting combination of high intelligence and aloofness. As former Sabres captain Michael Peca put it, there was a lot going on between the ears.
"You know, I think his brain operates at such a high speed; he just seems very intense all the time," Peca said.
"So when he engages with you one on one, or if it's in a crowd - or whatever it is - it seems like he's talking fast, and he seems almost spastic, like the mad scientist type of thing. Like his head is shaking around, even though it's not. I think it's just because his brain is working so fast and his mouth is trying to keep up."
It was common to find Hasek in his own world on the team plane.
He would be buried in a book or engrossed in a game of electronic chess instead of playing cards with the group. Korn recalls Hasek would often beat the computer, because, like in the crease, he always aimed to be a few steps ahead of the opponent.
I can't help but think of that famous Zach Galifianakis GIF cut from the casino scene in "The Hangover."
By all accounts, that's Hasek. He was process-driven, detail-oriented, and ever-curious.
When SportsCenter highlights were on in the Sabres dressing room, for instance, Hasek didn't necessarily care about who won or lost on Monday Night Football. He was fascinated by the strategy and thought process behind the NFL quarterback's play calling.
This fanatical mindset bled into his intermission routine, which included some fingernail maintenance.
"He came in between periods and it was like a shift worker on his break," said former Sabres backup goalie Steve Shields. "Dom would come in, put his stuff down, he would pick up his clippers from his bag.
"He would just sit there and his mind would just go to another place. We wouldn't really talk about the game. He would just settle into his routine, and then with a minute to go, he'd be like, 'OK, OK, let's go, guys,' and we'd go back out there. I think that's just what, for him, worked."
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