Dominik "The Dominator" Hasek

Dominik Hasek, photo: Dan4th Nicholas, CC BY-SA 2.0

After his recent Stanley Cup win and his subsequent retirement from ice hockey, the legendary goaltender Dominik Hasek is now back home in the Czech Republic. In this week's Profile Pavla Horakova looks at the life and career of the outstanding Czech ice-hockey player.

Dominik Hasek,  photo: Dan4th Nicholas,  CC BY-SA 2.0
On July 1st, just minutes after arriving at Prague airport, the legendary goaltender spoke to journalists at a packed news conference. This was to be his last such appearance for some time as Dominik plans to retreat to his Pardubice home and devote himself to his family; his wife, his son Misa, his daughter Dominika and the four businesses he runs in the country. Dominik, aka the Dominator, admitted it was difficult for him to quit his career.

"It was certainly difficult. When you hear a million or so people shouting 'One more year' for 45 minutes, it's not easy. During the celebrations my team-mates would bring up the topic but I didn't want to talk about it. They would come to me and say 'See you next year', but after it all settled down, my wife and I sat down and decided to return home. We had agreed before we would do that if I won the Stanley Cup. The decision was tough because a lot of people wanted me to stay and try to win the Stanley Cup again but we as a family decided it was time to leave and return back to the Czech Republic."

Dominik Hasek was born in the east Bohemian town of Pardubice, on January 29, 1965. He started playing ice-hockey in his native town and became goaltender in the Tesla Pardubice team. In 1986 he was named top Goaltender on Czechoslovakia's National Team and that's where the long list of Dominik's accolades, which includes six Vezina Trophies as the NHL's top goalie, begins. By the year 1990 when he left Czechoslovakia, Dominik Hasek had been named the country's Player of the Year three times. While he was working hard on his sports career, Dominik did not neglect his formal education. Dominik Hasek is quite a rare occurrence among Czech sportsmen as he can pride himself on a university degree. Dominik is a qualified teacher; he studied history and Czech language at the Faculty of Education in Hradec Kralove in East Bohemia, not far from his native Pardubice. I spoke to someone who has met Dominik Hasek in a completely different role than that of an ice-hockey star. Rudolf, an ice-hockey fan from Prague, was a high school student in Pardubice at the time when Dominik Hasek was still at university. One day a young student teacher came to the school for a practice lesson.

"I met him many years ago, it was in 1988. I was a young student of grammar school and Dominik Hasek came to teach us just for one hour because he was a student at the faculty for teachers. And my memories are that a normal guy came to our classroom. If I hadn't known it before I would know he was a big ice-hockey star. He was a common guy, very kind of shy, very quiet, no golden rings, no extreme behaviour. I was really surprised that somebody like him, someone who is very famous - he became a big star when he was 16 - behaves like that. It was very interesting for me."

At that time Dominik was not only a local star in his native Pardubice, he was an acknowledged national celebrity. By the way, those high school students did not remember much of the lesson Dominik taught them. They were more interested in him showing them the splits - which the loose-jointed player certainly did.

Although the list of Dominik's trophies, awards and records appears to be never-ending, until recently there was one award he was longing for and which kept eluding him - the Stanley Cup. When I win it, I'll hang up my skates for good, Dominik announced some time ago. Finally his dream came true. On June 13 this year his team, the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup when they defeated the Carolina Hurricanes. While for the Red Wings it was the 10th Stanley Cup, for Dominik it was the first. As promised, on June 25 he announced his retirement and decided to come back to the Czech Republic after 12 years spent abroad.

"One reason why I decided to quit was that I wanted to return back home to the Czech Republic but there was one other reason too. After we won the Stanley Cup, I was afraid that if I went on playing I would no longer have the passion and enthusiasm. And if I lost the enthusiasm I wouldn't be able play on such a level as in the last few years. I didn't want to disappoint my fans and team-mates."

In 1998 Dominik Hasek reached the peak of his fame in the Czech Republic and stayed there ever since. Dominik and the underdog Czech team won the Olympic championship when they beat Russia 1-0 to win gold at the Nagano Winter Olympics. The whole nation was glued to their TV sets and a crowd of 70,000 braved the pre-dawn chill and watched the early morning final on three huge screens in Prague's Old Town Square.

When the victorious team returned home, the whole country staged a rousing welcome for them. Jubilant crowds turned central Prague into a massive street party and hailed the national team's historic Olympic gold medal. An unknown fan coined the phrase "Hasek is not a man, Hasek is God" which then became an unofficial motto of the celebrations. People also shouted "Hasek na Hrad!" paraphrasing the popular 1989 slogan "Havel na Hrad!" which called for the then dissident Vaclav Havel to inhabit the traditional seat of Czech presidents, the Prague Castle. Even Havel himself was heard to say "Dominik - would you like to succeed me as president?" In the country where ice hockey is a national passion, young and old embraced and sang "We are the champions".

Before he joined the Detroit Red Wings last season, Dominik played for the Buffalo Sabres where he started in the 1992/1993 season. Although he did not part with the team on the best of terms, Dominik has a good reason to keep returning to the city.

"I plan to keep returning to Buffalo because last year I founded an organisation that supports children playing ice-hockey in Buffalo. I was very happy to see the scheme working. This year we had 185 kids, next year there'll be 240. Those kids would otherwise never get a chance to get on the ice and train. It was my goal to provide those kids with something that my own son has - a coach and training three times a week. This thing will always draw me back to Buffalo. Even though I will never play there again, I'm glad that something has remained after me there."

Dominik's style is described as very unorthodox. Thanks to his litheness and extremely loose-joints, Dominik was able to perform unbelievable stunts on the ice. Among his strengths are excellent concentration and tremendous foot speed. He is unflappable and always prepared. But isn't he afraid he'll miss the swish of the puck now he's retired?

"I'm not sad right now but it's hard to say how I will feel in the autumn when the next ice-hockey season starts. I can't imagine it now. I feel relieved now we won the Stanley Cup and I don't feel any stress or regret now. On the contrary, I feel great and I'm looking forward to what the future holds."

The Wax Museum in Prague shows a statue of the 37-year old legendary goalie wearing the Czech national kit. But Dominik himself does not plan to stand idle and collect dust like his wax double. If not sport, certainly business will keep him busy. For example his brand sportswear collection 'Dominator' which was launched here shortly after the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and is very popular among Dominik's fans. We end the show with a song dedicated to the victory of the Czech Olympic team in Nagano in 1998. It was written for the occasion by 80s' Czech pop-star Michal David and it's called 'We are the right team'.