I grew up playing baseball, and watching a lot of MLB on television. Any time the weather was nice, I’d round up some friends and play some backyard baseball. If no friends were around, I would make my dad hit balls to me, and if even my father wasn’t around, I would simply bounce a tennis ball off of my porch steps and imagine I was fielding line-drives off the bats of the pros. I’m not sure I even knew hockey existed until I was eight, which is when I watched the “Miracle on Ice” unfold on the TV in my backroom. Even as historic as that game was, however, my family just wasn’t that into hockey, and once the buzz of the Olympics died down it was back to baseball for me. Being a hockey fan just wasn’t in the cards . . .
. . . until I started attending college in Buffalo, and got to watch Dominik Hasek make saves like this on a near-nightly basis:
I distinctly remember staring at the TV in my dorm room in awe, my mouth literally hanging open, as I was introduced to the art of goal-tending in the NHL. I could not have asked for a better teacher than The Dominator, and I began to tune into Hockey Night in Canada and ESPN National Hockey Night, just to watch the goaltenders. There was nothing else in the world of sports – especially in baseball – that was as exciting and down-right breathtaking as seeing these net minders at work. Dominik Hasek was the goaltender I most wanted to watch, due to the sheer insanity he displayed. At first I chalked up those miraculous saves to sheer luck, but the longer I watched him, the better I understood: Dominik Hasek was nothing less than a magician in between the pipes. Whether he was rolling over and deflecting a puck blindly, lunging across the crease to redirect the puck just past the post, or lying sprawled out on the ice, making last-minute kick saves, Hasek made the impossible happen every night. I’ve since grown to love hockey in its entirety, but I must admit I am still drawn to the goaltenders whenever I watch the sport. Bottom line: it’s not hyperbole to say that Dominik Hasek is the reason I am a fan of the Buffalo Sabres, and hockey in general. (He’s also the reason I spent a few years resenting my parents for making me play baseball, instead of allowing me to try hockey, but that is neither here nor there!)
Now that the Dominator is retired for good, we are left with nothing but some old videos and some great memories. Still, we do get to look forward to the evening when his jersey is raised to the rafters of the First Niagara Center. I hope I can make it to that game, so I can cheer one last time for the man who showed me just how spectacular the game of hockey can be.