When Dominik Hasek arrived for his first Red Wings training camp in September 2001, his reputation preceded him. He was already a legendary goalie.
Every media member in Traverse City, Mich., that day was eager to meet him. We knew he was a fascinating character and wanted to try to figure out what made him tick.
We didn’t have to wait long to witness it.
Practice had long been over, and we were all waiting to speak with Hasek. The only problem was, nobody could find him.
Finally, we moved to the smaller practice rink at Centre Ice Arena, where Hasek was still on the ice — all by himself at the far end. There wasn’t any media access, so we were at one end of the rink and Hasek was at the other end.
For the next 45 minutes, we watched him play an imaginary hockey game. Without taking any break, Hasek made save after save on shots fired by a dreamed-up opponent. He unleashed his entire repertoire of moves — his unorthodox style on full display.
Occasionally, he would bang his stick on the ice or beat it against the post as if he had just given up a goal from an invisible player, shooting a fictional puck.
He was pushing 40, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland on acquiring Dominik Hasek in 2001
It was captivating to watch. I had never seen anything like it before.
When he at last skated over to us drenched in sweat, I was exhausted from simply watching him. I also fully understood why he was an immortal of his sport.
Hasek is a unique blend of drive, discipline, intensity, competitiveness, desire, mental toughness and talent. He’s the most complete athlete I’ve ever covered.
That’s why he became a first-ballot inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame Monday afternoon. Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake, Pat Burns and Bill McCreary were also named to the 2014 class.
When Hasek arrived in North America from Czechoslovakia in 1990, he didn’t have it easy. He was the best goalie in Europe, but at that time, the perception of European players was pretty negative.
"It was different for Europeans back then coming over because there was still that mental barrier by many North Americans about communism and that Europeans were coming over here and stealing jobs," said Jiri Fischer, a fellow countryman and former Red Wings teammate of Hasek. "Now the perception is that Europeans make the NHL better.
"Back then, there were no European captains (in the NHL), and today there are many. It has changed over the last 15 years, but Dom was still part of a generation that there was a perception gap of what the Europeans were bringing to the table."
After two seasons in Chicago, Hasek was dealt to Buffalo, where his NHL career took off. During nine seasons with the Sabres — including two trips to the Eastern Conference finals and one to the Stanley Cup finals — Hasek accumulated a slew of individual awards, but didn’t win the Cup.
Following the 2000-01 season, he asked for a trade.
OFF TO DETROIT
At that time, the Wings were looking to shake things up. They had won back-to-back Cups in 1997 and ’98, but had been bounced from the playoffs early three straight years — twice in the second round and once in the first.
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier had received a list of three or four teams Hasek would accept a trade to. However, the Wings weren’t at the top of his list.
"We weren’t No. 1 on his list (St. Louis was)," Wings GM Ken Holland said. "He was concerned about our age.
"Darcy gave me permission to talk to Dom. (Former Wings assistant GM) Jim Nill and I went through the process of talking to him to convince him we’re a championship team. We pushed real hard."
Whatever the Wings’ pitch was, it worked. The next day, Hasek’s agent, Rich Winter, called to inform them that the Dominator had chosen Detroit.
According to Winter, Hasek wanted to play with the Wings’ cavalcade of stars.
In exchange for Hasek, the Wings sent forward Slava Kozlov, a 2002 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2003 first-rounder to Buffalo, which Detroit had to relinquish because it won the Cup in 2002.
"He was pushing 40, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Holland said.
A VALUED AND ‘DIFFERENT’ TEAMMATE
Once Hasek arrived in Detroit, he made an immediate impact, on and off the ice.
"The one thing that always stood out was how he competed," recalled Kris Draper, another former Red Wings teammate of Hasek. "His practice habits made me a better player. He didn’t want anyone to score on him in practice.
"Dom took it personal. He never quit on a play. All the sudden, he’d make a glove save with some unorthodox play, pick the puck up with his blocker."
"He was one of those players that made people around him better. His personality was like he played hockey — unpredictable. He was a good teammate."
Another former Red Wings teammate, Kirk Maltby, echoed Draper’s sentiments about Hasek. Maltby also said that Hasek’s Czech accent and wardrobe, especially his odd-looking sweaters, quickly endeared him to the Wings.
"Dom was in category by himself at the time," Maltby said. "He was a world-class goalie. To add him to a team with the firepower we had — he had only one objective, and that was to win the Stanley Cup.
"He was funny by accident. He would say things that would come out the wrong way. He had his own dress code and wore what he felt comfortable in."
Hasek’s accent and chatterbox nature on the ice took some getting used to for Detroit’s defensemen.
"Starting in preseason, we’re in the D zone, and there is play and a shot is just about to come," Fischer said. "And I’m standing in front of him and trying to block the shot, and I start hearing really loud, ‘Mussee, mussee, mussee, mussee!’ I kind of jumped up a little bit and was like, ‘Whoa, what was that?’
"Then it happened again and then it happened again. So, finally after a few games, we’re in the locker room talking with the D, and we’re like, ‘What’s going on?’
"Finally we figured it out: Must see!. He was letting us know that the most important thing for him to be successful is for him to see the puck."
When you bring up Hasek’s name to his former Wings teammates, many of them imitate Hasek’s accent and start yelling, "Mussee, mussee, mussee!"
PRACTICE NO PICNIC
An incident involving Pavel Datsyuk, back then a young rookie forward, provides an even clearer picture of Hasek’s perfectionist nature.
During an informal shootout session, Datsyuk, who had already perfected an array of nifty breakaway moves, proceeded to school Hasek.
"Pavel was already a unique, offensively skilled player, and he scored on Dom several times in a row," Fischer said. "We usually take turns. If someone scores, the next guy goes. But Dom made sure that Pavel goes every time until he stops him. He wasn’t happy until he stopped everyone.
"That’s the competitive nature that he has for everything that he does in life, and that’s why he was so successful."
Hasek’s numbers speak for themselves: two Stanley Cups, six Vezina trophies, three Jennings trophies, two Pearson awards, two Hart trophies, 389 career wins and 81 career shutouts.
Now it all culminates in becoming a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014.
You would think that the Hall would be Hasek’s career crowning moment.
"If you were to ask Dom if he could play pro hockey today or not, he’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m thinking about it, probably next year, maybe next year, yeah next year,’ Fischer said. "When he goes onto the podium (during the induction ceremony), it will be the reality check.
"He’ll be very happy, very proud moment. But at the same time, it will be a decision made on his behalf that he’s not going to be a player in the NHL anymore."
Even at 49 years-old, Hasek still isn’t ready to surrender anything to anybody.