BUFFALO, N.Y. - As the Sabres celebrate Dominik Hasek's time in Buffalo and raise his No. 39 to the rafters at First Niagara Center, the man known as "The Dominator" gets to see his impact on the game today.
With the Czech Republic's Michal Neuvirth in net for the Sabres and countryman Petr Mrazek in net for the Detroit Red Wings, Hasek can see his influence on goaltending almost seven years after he played his final NHL game.
"This is something special," Hasek said Tuesday morning. "This is something I'm proud (of) if I had influence on these goalies: my style, my work ethic or something was special for them, which led them to become NHL goalies."
There have only been just over a dozen Czech-born goaltenders in the NHL, many of whom were born in Czechoslovakia before the country split in 1993. Three are in the league now: Neuvirth, Mrazek and Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets.
And while there have been others, like Roman Cechmanek and Tomas Vokoun, Hasek is the only Czech goalie to win a Stanley Cup as the starter. Neuvirth, Mrazek and Pavelec are of the age that they grew up watching Hasek at his best.
"Obviously when a guy like that starts playing goal in your country, then other people start playing goal," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Hasek's debut on the international stage came at the 1987 Canada Cup. One of his shining moments came when he helped the Czech Republic win gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
"Since Nagano, he's been a legend. Everybody loves him back home," Neuvirth said. "I remember the whole country just stopped. We were watching the games. It was such a big deal. It was huge."
Hasek beat Canada in the infamous shootout without Wayne Gretzky in the semifinals and then beat Russia to get the gold medal. In the first Olympics featuring NHL players, Hasek stood out above everyone.
"Since then, he was my hero," Neuvirth said Monday. "He was my idol. I always wanted to be like him playing in the National Hockey League. He was pushing my dream forward."
Hasek said fans in the Czech Republic care deeply about hockey and follow the careers of Neuvirth and Mrazek just like they did his. The love of the sport isn't as fervent as in Canada, he said, but hockey and soccer hold a special place in people's lives.
To Neuvirth and Mrazek, Hasek's career, his Olympic triumph and six Vezina Trophies meant a lot. But watching his unorthodox style, they knew they couldn't replicate it.
Neuvirth called Hasek a "unique goaltender," so he and his Czech counterpart instead tried to mimic his work ethic.
"He had a totally different style and play a different game," Mrazek said. "But what I want to take from him, it's the game he was winning. He never wanted to lose the game and wanted to win every time. That's what I'm trying to do."
After watching all-star starting goaltender Jimmy Howard go down with a groin injury Saturday night in Washington, Babcock said he would love for Mrazek "to be as mentally strong and determined as Dom is, and then he can have himself a heck of a career."
It may be Mrazek's net for the near future, so he's going to try to make his idol proud.
"I can try and take from (his mental toughness), too," Mrazek said. "You have to be mentally strong every time. If you let (in a) bad goal just let it go and be ready."
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