Tuesday January 13th, 2015

Off The Draw

The last time I saw Dominik Hasek, he gave me the Heisman Trophy pose.

It was years ago, during his second run with the Red Wings, when I happened to spot him at the airport. I was scheduled to interview him a couple of days later for Beckett Hockey and thought it might help if I took advantage of our chance encounter to introduce myself.

But Dom was having none of it. As he saw me approaching he gave me the stiff arm and kept walking. “No autographs!” he barked. I tried to explain who I was, but he quickly cut me off. “Can’t you see I’m here with my children? No autographs!”

Now, unless Hasek had adopted a pair of elderly Korean women, his kids were nowhere in sight, but that was his story and he was sticking to it ... until a few days later, when I told him of our encounter during our phone interview. He revealed that he was just tired of being hounded for his signature. “Everywhere I go, someone always is asking for an autograph,” he said. “I have to watch out. They get very creative.”

You’d think a guy like Hasek, the newly minted Hall of Fame goalie who is having his number retired by the Sabres on Tuesday night in Buffalo (7 p.m. EST; SN1, FS-D, MSG-B), would have appreciated my creativity. The man basically threw out all the previously accepted notions for puck-stopping and gave birth to an entirely new approach to his position that relied on reflexes and anticipation as technique. More Gumby than goalie, he threw his arms and legs with seeming abandon. Rolling, spinning, flailing ... it was rarely pretty, but Hasek insisted that there was a method to his apparent madness. “I’m just a butterfly goalie with fast legs,’ he said. “It looks awkward, but it’s a pretty good style I think.”

More like ruthlessly effective. A tireless perfectionist, Hasek wasn’t just good. He was the most feared goalie of his generation—a generation that included Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur. “He gets into your head if you let him,” said Brendan Shanahan, who was famously stoned by Hasek in the shootout that clinched a 1–0 win for the Czech Republic in the 1998 Olympic semifinal. “Other goalies make stops. He has you beaten before you even get the shot off.”

“He's a human Slinky,” said Brett Hull. “I don’t know how he does it. You think you have him and then something comes flying out to make the stop. You’re lucky to beat him.”

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Hasek’s reputation was cemented during a remarkable 16-season NHL career, nine of which were spent with the Sabres. In Buffalo, Hasek became the first goaltender ever to win two Hart trophies (1997 and ’98). He also won six Vezina trophies (’94, ’95, ’97, ’98, ’99, 2001), two Lester B. Pearson awards (’97 and ’98) and two William M. Jennings trophies (’94 and ’01). He led the league in save percentage for seven consecutive seasons and set franchise records for wins (234), shutouts (55) and lowest career goals-against average (2.22).

He also led the Sabres on their memorable run to the 1999 Stanley Cup finals, when they lost the series on Hull’s infamous foot-in-the-crease goal. He finally won the Cup with Detroit in 2002 and ’08.

Fitting, then, that the Wings will be the opponent on the night that his number is raised to the rafters of First Niagara Center in front of what’s sure to be a sellout crowd.

No doubt the fans in Buffalo will be thrilled to see him again in person. But a word of advice for those in attendance: Don’t ask for an autograph.

Bill Wippert/Getty Images

What to watch tonight

Islanders at Rangers (7 p.m. EST; MSG+, MSG)

Play our new daily fantasy hockey game!

For too many years, this bitter intrastate rivalry has been more about the fans in the stands than the players on the ice. That’s finally about to change.

For the first time since 1978–79, the Islanders and the Rangers both earned at least 50 points during the first half of a season. They’re not just good, they’re legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference title. The Rangers are the hottest team in hockey, winners of 13 of their last 14 games, including an impressive sweep of the NHL’s three California teams last week. The Isles, meanwhile, boast the best record in the Metropolitan Division, and are a solid 6-3-1 in their last 10.

They also have a five-point lead on the Blueshirts. If the Islanders win on Tuesday night, the gap will stretch to seven. If they lose, it will narrow to three with the Rangers holding three games in hand. Obviously there’s more than New York bragging rights at stake.

The Isles have won in four of their last six visits to Madison Square Garden, including a 6–3 victory on Oct. 14, but the Rangers have won 10 of the last 15 meetings between the two teams.

“No matter what the records ... the rivalry is still huge,” Rangers winger Rick Nash told Newsday. “I think just the point of the season we’re at and how points are so tough to get these days, it’s going to make it that much better.”

Rest of the schedule: Red Wings at Sabres (7 p.m. EST; SN1, FS-D, MSG-B); Lightning at Bruins (7 p.m. EST; TVA, SNE, SNO, SUN, NESN); Wild at Penguins (7 p.m. EST; NBCSN, ROOT); Avalanche at Hurricanes (7 p.m. EST; ALT, SPSO); Oilers at Blues (8 p.m. EST; SNW, FS-MW); Canucks at Predators (8 p.m. EST; SNP); Panthers at Jets (8 p.m. EST; FS-F, TSN3); Senators at Stars (8:30 p.m. EST; RDS, TSN5, FS-SW+); Sharks at Coyotes (9 p.m. EST; CSN-CA, FS-A PLUS)

What you missed last night

• Any way you look at it, Tampa Bay took a beating from the Flyers. (highlights)

• The season-long wave of illness and injury in Pittsburgh continued when the team lost defenseman Olli Maatta for an extended period.

• It’s been a tough year for Simon Gagne, who has decided to take a leave of absence from Boston while he deals with personal issues.

​The numbers game

• Hasek is the seventh Buffalo player to have his uniform number retired by the Sabres. The others: Danny Gare, Tim Horton, Pat LaFontaine, Rick Martin, Gilbert Perreault, and Rene Robert. 

• ​Alex Ovechkin has now scored at least 10 power-play goals in nine of his 10 NHL seasons. Only two other active players have produced as many seasons with at least 10 power-play goals: Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr.

• ​Martin Jones of the Kings has seven shutouts in his first 29 NHL games, reaching seven more quickly than any goalie since Hall of Famer Frank (Mr. Zero) Brimsek did it in his 22nd game with the Bruins in January 1939.

Hot links

• With Jimmy Howard sidelined by a groin injury, it’s times for Petr Mrazek to prove his NHL bona fides.

NHL
Streaky Blue Jackets now in serious playoff bubble trouble

• Jason Spezza discusses finding his place with the Stars on the eve of playing his former team, the Senators, for the first time.

• The new Labatt Blue cans made expressly for the American market are pretty awesome.

• Speaking of USA Hockey, the Americans can finally celebrate a win over their Canadian cousins.

• A former NHL player was arrested after kicking a high school hockey player in the back.

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