TORONTO – Bill McCreary, like the rest of the hockey world, was eagerly anticipating the 1998 Nagano Olympics. NHL players were set to compete for the first time, and the longtime referee was chatting with his fellow officials about the favorites during their flight to Japan.
One linesman was adamant he knew the winner. He insisted Czech Republic – an underdog – would definitely take the gold. Why?
“That’s how much respect he had in the industry, and that’s how great he was,” said McCreary, who joined Hasek, Mike Modano, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and Pat Burns in being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.
Hasek did indeed lead his country to the gold medal, a moment that remains one of the goaltender’s favorites.
“Nagano was definitely No. 1, with winning my first Stanley Cup in 2002,” said Hasek, who starred for the Buffalo Sabres from 1992 to 2001. “The fans and the people in Buffalo supported me through every success I had. The welcome Richard Smehlik and I received after we returned from Nagano with an Olympic gold medal made me feel like we were bringing the gold back home, not into a foreign country.”
Buffalo and the Sabres played a big part in Hasek’s induction speech. He thanked Seymour and Northrup Knox, Larry Quinn, Lindy Ruff, former teammates Dale Hawerchuk, Pat LaFontaine, Michael Peca and Alexei Zhitnik, plus members of the equipment and public relations staffs.
“The things that he was able to do captivated the city,” LaFontaine, who sat next to Peca in the audience, said during a prerecorded introduction. “It’s an amazing sports town, and the sports figures are loved. Dominik was one of those icon sports figures and always will be in Buffalo.”
Hasek also thanked teammates and coaches from Chicago and Detroit. Chris Chelios, who played in both cities, presented Hasek with his plaque.
“I came to the States in 1990 to Chicago, and I was dreaming about one day being a starting goalie in the NHL,” Hasek said. “My goal was to become a starting goalie. I honestly never dreamed about being a Vezina Trophy winner and at one time to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s like a dream, seriously.”
Hasek made the Hall of Fame a reality with a record-setting career that is filled with highlight-reel saves.
The Dominator flopped, kicked and rolled his way to six Vezina Trophies, two Stanley Cups and the best save percentage (.922) and goals-against average (2.20) in NHL history among goalies with 500 games played.
Hasek also won the Hart Trophy twice – in 1997 and 1998 – as the league’s most valuable player.
“Fantastic goalie,” Forsberg said. “He read the play so well. When you looked up, he was already there. He could see the game so well, see the play develop, and I think that was his best attribute.”
Hasek’s keen hockey mind was matched by a body that could contort in unimaginable ways. It allowed his unorthodox style to work.
“Sometimes it was difficult to listen to people that my style is not good,” Hasek said, “but I’m glad I could prove that my style is good enough.”
Hasek’s game was on display from 1981 to 2011. The 49-year-old starred in the Czech League before coming to the NHL and finishing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.
His induction would have come years ago had he followed through on his multiple retirements, which started in 2002.
“It was sort of easy to retire, but after a few months without hockey I decided three times to come back just for the love of the game,” Hasek said. “I don’t have any regrets to retire once or twice just because I felt a little bit tired. After a few months without hockey, I felt like I should come back.
“Anytime I came back, whether it was North America or even one more time in Europe, I felt like I still played great hockey and contributed.”
Hasek’s plaque hangs on the top row in the Great Hall. It faces the Masterton and Lady Byng trophies, is above McCreary and next to 2013 inductee Scott Niedermayer.
He shares a wall with Eddie Belfour, the Chicago goalie he needed to get away from in order to enhance his career.
“I was very lucky,” Hasek said. “I was lucky to be traded from Chicago to Buffalo. I became a starting goalie, had support of the organization. Then later to play on the Detroit Red Wings team with so many Hall of Famers, I have no regrets with what I’ve done through my career.”