Me, Hasek & a ridiculous request

Twenty years after he won his first Vezina Trophy, Dominik Hasek is once again a hot topic in the hockey world. Now that he’s being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, journalists are looking back at his signature “barrel roll” and current goalies are reflecting on his influence. Me? I’ve been thinking about an interview I did with him and a most unsual encounter with a fan.

Hasek and I met in a hotel restaurant in Toronto two years ago, while I was working on my book about legendary NHL goalies. We were chatting over hamburgers and light beer (yes, light beer) when our conversation was interrupted. Having kept a respectful distance for 10 whole minutes a fan had succumbed to the gravitational pull of celebrity. He approached the retired Czech athlete. “Holy shit, you’re Dominik Hasek!” The response, delivered in an accent familiar to fans who heard him sing on a Buffalo radio show, was succinct. “Yes, I am.”

The middle-aged man crouched beside Hasek to pose for a photo. His wife fumbled with the smartphone but despite her best intentions, couldn’t operate it. They giggled as they switched places and the fan took a picture of his wife with Hasek. Widening his stance to maintain his balance, he listed Hasek’s many accomplishments to the best of his ability. Which Olympics was it where he beat Team Canada all on his frickin’ own? (Answer: What is, the 1998 Nagano Games.)

Then he moved on to business. Putting a hand on Hasek’s shoulder, he leaned forward and asked a question: Would Hasek like to play in his weekend beer league? The six-time Vezina Trophy winner paused for a moment but probably not to consider the prospect of hauling damp hockey equipment into the bowels of a community arena in suburban Toronto. “Thanks,” he said, “but I am retired.” The man shrugged. No biggie. He and his wife zigzagged back to the bar.

It would have made sense for my conversation with Hasek to turn to hockey at that point, but it didn’t. Instead, he veered off into politics, talking about legenday dissident and statesman Vaclav Havel. Then he turned his attention to the Czech economy. Suddenly, I found myself pondering GDP growth and unemployment rates rather than Hasek’s performance in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals.

I was a little surprised by that, but I shouldn’t have been. As hockey fans know well, “The Dominator” can be unpredictable. From the time he arrived in Chicago as an unknown European import to his fourth retirement announcement almost two decades later, Hasek’s exploits left people gasping in astonishment and scratching their heads in confusion.

I’m pleased he’s being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) and I bet there’s at least one guy in suburban Toronto who’s tickled pink. Right about now, he’s probably telling his buddies about the time he and Dominik Hasek talked shop.