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Top Shelf: No goalie dominated like the Dominator

Dominik Hasek finished his career with a 2.20 GAA and .922 SP in 735 career NHL games. (Rick Stewart /Allsport)

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Dominik Hasek finished his career with a 2.20 GAA and .922 SP in 735 career NHL games. (Rick Stewart /Allsport)

For all the hardware Dominik Hasek is taking with him as he exits crease left, the one thing I wish he’d leave behind is his nickname.

In an era where made-up monikers rarely go beyond adding a few letters to a player’s last name, ‘The Dominator’ stood out as a truly original, apt handle.

Hasek could bend, baffle, distract and infuriate at every turn. But it was his ability to utterly dominate a game that defines his career.

For a skinny guy, he cast a big shadow.

And for all the times his presence was felt for the wrong reasons – not staying out of the way in Ottawa when he was hurt, and being just generally bizarre at times in Buffalo – everything else fades to black when you consider the innate ability this guy had to fling body parts in front of pucks.

When debating the premier goalies of the past 20 years, talk inevitably turns to the names Roy, Brodeur and Hasek.

Put to a bet for all my chips, I’d pick Patrick Roy as the best of the bunch. Forget the all-time wins record, it’s the three Conn Smythe Trophies that are too much to ignore.

However, and let me just plunk my butt firmly on the fence here, I don’t think Roy, Brodeur or any other goalie in the past two decades could achieve the level of complete dominance Hasek exhibited for a handful of years.

At the height of his powers, Hasek, more than any other goalie of his generation, could make the opposition and its fans feel completely hopeless about their chances for victory.

When he won his first of back-to-back Hart Trophies in 1997, he was the first goalie to be named league MVP in 35 years. Between 1994 and 2001, he won six of eight Vezina Trophies. That was the zenith of his Gumby greatness.

The Dominator was the league’s great equalizer because no team was above being beaten by the Buffalo Sabres based solely on the performance of Hasek.

During the 1998-99 season, Buffalo had three players exceed the 50-point barrier, the most productive of whom was Miroslav Satan with his 66 points. Had the league made the correct call on a certain overtime goal in Game 6 of that season’s Stanley Cup final, the Sabres could have played a winner-take-all match for the big prize.

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A team without a first-line forward or a legit top-pair defenseman nearly got to raise the Cup simply because it had an out-of-this-world goalie.

In my mind, Roy’s biggest claim to fame is leading two otherwise average Canadiens teams to championships in 1986 and 1993. Without Roy, the Habs are staring a 30-year Cup drought in the face, no question.

Still, take Roy off those teams and they’re likely first-round fodder. Remove Hasek from a Buffalo squad that relied heavily on the scoring exploits of Michal Grosek and Jason Woolley and you have to wonder whether the Sabres are picking first overall that year.

And then there’s the matter of the high-stakes staring contest Roy and Hasek waged at the 1998 Olympics. Both blinked once during overtime, but when it got to the shootout, even the staunchest Canuck supporter knew deep down inside what was going to happen. The Czech fans were simply going to count down the Canadian shooters as if it were the dying seconds of a game: Five-four-three-two-none!

While most forget Roy only let a single puck slip past him, Hasek, of course, didn’t allow one. Then he blanked the Russians in the gold medal game, just to spread the misery around.

Hasek is going to be remembered for a lot of things. For me, it will be about those moments watching him - standing in the Buffalo net or wearing his famous No. 39 in the Czech crease - and thinking, “What else is on TV, cause this aint going anywhere good.”

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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