USATSI_8328689_154158418_lowresThe Buffalo Sabres joined the Anaheim Ducks in the fine art of retiring sweaters this week, sending Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters on Tuesday at the First Niagara Center.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the cheers of Sabres fans,” the Dominator said. “It’s very humbling to be standing here tonight and look up in the rafters and seeing the names of Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin, Rene Robert, Tim Horton, Danny Gare and Pat LaFontaine. It reminds me that Buffalo is a special place in the game of hockey.”

Hasek had nine seasons with the Sabres in a 16-year career that also included time with the Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings. He won six Vezina Trophies in the period from 1993 to 2001 and was the first goaltender to win multiple Hart Memorial Trophies. He also took the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1999.

The Dominator was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November and joined the Sabres Hall of Fame last March.

The Sabres announced plans to retire Hasek’s sweater last March, making his the seventh to be retired by the franchise. And although it’s been mentioned before, it bears repeating: he was one of the best to ever play the game, posting a career 2.02 goals against average – the best in the modern era.

But it was his time in Buffalo that really defined him as a goalie.

“I had a chance to play with the greatest teammates a guy could ask for,” Hasek said at the ceremony. “Without guys like Michael Peca, Richard Smehlik, Pat Lafontaine, Alexei Zhitnik, and so many more, I would not be standing here today. It was because of them we were able to accomplish so many great things throughout my time here. Some of the other banners hanging in the rafters of this building are a testament to that, and we will always have that special bond.”

Hasek arrived in Buffalo thanks to a trade that sent goalie Stephane Beauregard and future considerations to the Chicago Blackhawks. This was after Chicago’s 1992 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hasek’s first job in Buffalo was to back up Tom Draper and then Grant Fuhr. The latter provided an opportunity via injury and Hasek stepped in. By 1994, he’d won his first Vezina.

Things weren’t always wine and roses in Buffalo. He was once suspended for three games and fined $10,000 after attacking reporter Jim Kelley following an excoriating (and unfair) column that attacked Hasek’s competitive spirit. He also famously clashed with coach Ted Nolan, which in turn left him in tough with some Buffalo fans.

Through it all, Hasek never quit on the team or the city. He dominated time and time again, winning a second Vezina Trophy. He also won a second Hart Trophy and played in 72 games in the 1997-1998 season, posting an amazing 13 shutouts – six of which came in December.

Hasek was also in goal for the famous “skate in the crease” goal that led the Dallas Stars to their Stanley Cup victory in 1999. “Maybe [the video goal judge] was in the bathroom. Maybe he was sleeping,” Hasek remarked. “Maybe he doesn’t know the rule.”

Hasek was, without question, one of the most passionate players to ever step between the pipes and one of the finest goalies of all time. His period of dominance with the Sabres is the stuff of legend and his legacy is assured with his famed No. 39 in the rafters for all to see.

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