Sabres to retire Hasek’s No. 39 next season

Dominik Hasek. (Tim Sharp/AP)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Having spent several years going back and forth on retirement, The Dominator insists this time he is, indeed, done.

Though Dominik Hasek still enjoys playing pickup hockey a few times a week in his native Czech Republic, the closest he intends to come to an NHL rink these days will occur Saturday. That’s when the Buffalo Sabres will induct their former star goalie into the team’s Hall of Fame before playing the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not even the prospect of joining the last-place Sabres (20-45-8), who are in desperate need of experienced goaltending help after trading Ryan Miller last month, is enough to lure the 49-year-old Hasek back into the crease.

"Thank you, but no thank you," Hasek said with a smile Friday. "Hockey was part of my life. I enjoyed it. But not any more as a professional player."

He played his last game three years ago for Moscow Spartak of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. As recently as a year ago he considered playing one more season. Then last summer, after receiving no enticing offers, Hasek elected to finally hang up his pads.

Actually, Hasek said, his equipment is somewhere at home, still packed in the Spartak bag — just as he left it following his final game.

"The hockey career is something that’s behind me," said Hasek, noting he suits up as a defenceman when playing with friends. "There are new goals in life, and always something new to prove."

He proved plenty during a 16-season NHL career during in which Hasek established himself as one of the game’s best.

Hasek was a two-time MVP, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s top goalie, won two Stanley Cups (both with Detroit in 2002 and ’08) and led the Czech Republic to a gold-medal championship at the 1998 Winter Games at Nagano.

His 2.20 career goals-against average still ranks as the best among NHL goalies playing a minimum 500 games, and he still ranks among the top 10 in several statistical categories.

Though he also played for Chicago, Detroit and Ottawa, Hasek enjoyed the prime of his career in Buffalo from 1992-2001.

Buffalo is a place, and the Sabres a team that remain dear to him.

"It was an honour for me to play for this organization, and this is something I’ll never forget," Hasek said. "The Sabres are always staying in my heart."

Hasek still has ties to Buffalo, where he established his charitable foundation, "Hasek’s Heroes," shortly before forcing his trade to the Red Wings in June 2001. He stays in touch with organizers of the foundation, which provides on- and off-ice support for children from low-to-moderate income families.

Hasek also keeps tabs on the Sabres, and is disappointed with how the team is performing during what’s been a tumultuous season. The Sabres are rebuilding from scratch under new general manager Tim Murray and interim coach Ted Nolan, who is expected to sign a contract extension within the coming week.

Nolan is no stranger to Hasek. The two had a strained relationship during Nolan’s first stint as Sabres coach from 1995-97.

To Hasek, whatever differences the two had are in the past and made it a point to have a chat with Nolan following practice.

"I know there were some questions of the relationship between me and him, but what can I say?" Hasek said. "I’m looking forward to seeing him today and I wish him good luck to improve the Sabres."

Nolan was pleased to meet up with Hasek.

"I still don’t know what really transpired back then. But back then is back then," Nolan said, adding whatever tensions that existed between them were blown out of proportion. "He looks well, and he’s all happy and excited about being back here. We had a nice talk."

Hasek will return to Buffalo next season, when the Sabres intend to retire his No. 39 by hanging his banner in the rafters alongside six former Sabres greats, including Gilbert Perreault.

"When you play hockey, you never think about having your jersey retired or about individual awards," Hasek said. "I want to be remembered as a competitor who gave the team the chance to always win."

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