Ask me who my favorite player of all time is, and I’ll answer without hesitation: The Dominator. As a young lad just starting to find his way as a hockey fan, Hasek was the biggest star on the team that was closest to me. It was that simple; the kind of simplicity that can only be understood by a child with the way sports are today. I didn’t understand the trap and I couldn’t have told you what was going on between Dom and Nolan and Muckler (can anyone?), but naivety be damned, it was plain to see that the man could take a team on his back and win games on his own.
I, along with many others, have always had a soft spot for the1996-97 team. It was the first time in my life that I had ever understood the game and became attached to a team. I didn’t have cable or Empire at the time (Empire! Come back! We miss you!), so I spent my nights listening to Pete Weber call the action on WBEN, or Clip Smith’s (RIP) call-in show on off-days. There always seemed to be a common theme: Hasek steals another one.
Looking back, I didn’t even know what I was witnessing. I had no concept of how incredible his season was. I had no idea that a goalie winning the Hart Trophy was such a lofty accomplishment. Whether I fully grasped his greatness or not, Hasek’s play was the biggest factor in making a fan out of me, and for that I am thankful that he was around.
People will mention (and have mentioned) the various controversies that have become synonymous with his name here. The masses certainly were offended when he made his now infamous “Red Wing for life” comment. But those things don’t matter when you are too young to make sense of them. It certainly isn’t that way for me anymore; If Lindy Ruff were to skip town, win a cup, and backhand the Sabres organization similar to the way Dom did, I would hate him and label him a traitor. I had become so enamored with Dom’s play at such a young age that he has reached a level where he can do no wrong with me (Well, maybe he can do some wrong).
That brings me to my larger point. Let’s remember Dom for what he did on the ice. Like it or not, Hasek was the best player to put on a Sabres sweater. Personally, I will try my hardest to be in attendance when number 39 is raised to the rafters, and I hope that I won’t be in the minority when I stand and cheer.
Far too much attention is paid to what goes on off of the ice/field/pitch/etc. Our culture has become so celebrity obsessed that off-the-field stories are bigger than what happens in the game itself (and the athletes have no one to blame but themselves. I’m looking at you, OJ.) I just wish we could all go back to an age where all of that mattered less. An age where we could all remember Dom for his slinky for a spine and spectacular saves rather than his tissue paper groin and boneheaded media comments.
So Dominik, thank you for your time in Buffalo. Whether you enjoyed it here or not, I had a great time watching you play every night. Congrats on your career, and enjoy retirement.
And one last time, for old time’s sake (I don’t care if we posted this two days ago, this picture will never get old)…