For the fans who booed Dominik Hasek out of Buffalo — and I was one of them — it's time to step back and forgive.
Hasek retired on Monday, less than a week after winning his second Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings. But it's only natural not to take Hasek at his word this time. By my count, he's retired officially at least twice (1999 and 2002)... unofficially, well, that's up for debate.
Hasek last retired on June 25, 2002, after winning the first Cup he left Buffalo for in 2001. Remember the mood then?
It was forgotten, almost as if it never happened.
Dominik Hasek was seated on a dais in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena for a news conference to announce his retirement Tuesday. Only when a reporter asked The Dominator about the Buffalo Sabres did he acknowledge his old team.
Hasek finally found his Holy Grail two weeks ago when he and the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. He had won six Vezina Trophies as the NHL's top goalie and two Hart Trophies as the league's MVP -- all with the Sabres.
But the Stanley Cup completed his spectacular career.
"I am and I will be a Red Wing forever," Hasek read in his opening statement.
And just like that, the Sabres were rendered the same discarded fate as Chuck Cunningham on "Happy Days." For those unfamiliar with the sitcom: The oldest child of Mr. and Mrs. C was eliminated from the show's consciousness as if he never existed after the first season. -The Buffalo News, June 26, 2002
Hasek added: "I do not feel that I have enough fire in me to compete at the level that I expect for myself.'
On Monday, he said the main reason for his retirement was a lack of motivation. Fire, motivation... sound familiar?
Needless to say, Buffalo fans remember how Hasek forced his way out of town, even telling Darcy Regier that he couldn't take away the good players from the team he was being traded to. (See, the Kozlov years) It was always about Dom. And that worked perfect when he was making 70 saves against the New Jersey Devils in 1994 — but not when he wanted to go an enemy. And that Red Wing "forever" send off stung.
There's no excuse for the way Hasek left Buffalo, or how he treated the Sabres at that retirement ceremony. What you can focus on is today, when he spent the majority of his written speech talk about the very city he left seven years ago. He's 43-years-old now — not that he was young in 2002, but it seems the added years and trials have left Hasek to reflect on how special his time in the Queen City was:
"I had opportunity to play with some incredible players… Dale Hawerchuk, Pat LaFontaine, Grant Fuhr, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Michael Peca and Miro Satan. I want to thank them for all the great work they did in front of me, and helping me to be more successful.
And I will never forget Richard Smehlik and Alex Zhitnik, who played more games in front of me than any other two defensemen. I cannot thank them enough for helping me to have the level of success I could only have dreamt of before we played together.
But it was John Muckler who gave me the chance to be a starting goaltender. I don’t think I disappointed him. But I can tell you, tell all of you for sure, not much of the success would ever have happened without John’s support and encouragement. I want to thank John very, very much for all he did for me in Buffalo and in Ottawa.
Buffalo Sabres president Larry Quinn had helped me through many tough times. He has always stood behind me. I could always turn to Larry for helping hand and thought and in tough times. ...
I want to thank Larry for being there, for being a good friend, as well as congratulate him for his success in selling out 80 Sabres games in a row. That’s not easy to do.
And Mitch Korn, my goalie coach in Buffalo who worked with me to help me adjust my unique style to be more effective in the NHL. Mitch never tried to change me, but he just helped me to be a better goalie. Thanks Mitch.
I would… Buffalo… to our family make many friends who helped us a lot. Unfortunately, I can’t name them all today. I will always remember the fans. Buffalo is a small market, but they supported us in huge numbers. I will never forget the many sold-out games in the old Aud, and especially at the HSBC Arena. They pushed the team forward and helped me in some ways make every save.
Leaving Buffalo was difficult. But in 2001, I knew if I was to win a Cup, I had to move on. I decided on Hockeytown, and I asked for a trade to Detroit and Buffalo agreed to make.
"Last time I was talking here, I didn’t mention Buffalo too much, just because it was a different time. But today, it was a great nine years. And now I’m with the Wings, I’m very proud to be a Red Wing also. These are two places in my life that will always stay in my heart."
I almost burst out laughing when he mentioned the Zhitnik/Smehlik pairing. Did anyone else have a goatlord flashback? Those are the days the still-boiling Sabres fans need to remember now. When Hasek and shutout coincided on a nightly basis. When Slinky for a spine wasn't just an old "priceless" Mastercard commercial. When Hasek was winning games for the hometown team, even though they had little business doing so on many nights.
It would be an embarrassment if Hasek's number was not retired next season at HSBC Arena. It doesn't hurt that Larry and Dom sound like they're still buddy-buddy. I don't doubt people will boo — fans just booed Daniel Briere this past season and he wanted to stay. But it's the right thing to do, and it's the right time to do it.
As long as Hasek is truly retired this time, of course.