Total Domination

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

Can Dominik Hasek be "The Dominator" again?

We're about to find out.

Watching the Senators get eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round in April, 2004 was enough to make Senators GM John Muckler sick.

Though Muckler was a Patrick Lalime supporter, he decided it was time to take action and bring in a proven goaltender, someone who could put the team on his back if necessary.

The names of the usual suspects surfaced: Trade for Olaf Kolzig or sign free agent Curtis Joseph. The options were limited until the telephone in Muckler's Corel Centre office rang one afternoon following the first-round defeat.

"I got a call from (Hasek's agent) Ritch Winter saying that Dominik might be available and he wanted to play," says Muckler. "That's when I started thinking about it. To me, this was an opportunity to get a proven goaltender ... a guy who has won a Stanley Cup. I don't think that's a gamble at all."

But there is risk involved with the 40-year-old Hasek and Muckler knows it.

JUST 14 GAMES

Hasek has played just 14 games in the last three years and had surgery to repair a chronic groin problem that forced him to leave the Wings midway through the 2003-04 season.

That doesn't seem to matter to anybody in the Senators' organization. They're hoping and believing that Hasek can get back to the form that won him a Stanley Cup, Vezina Trophy as the top goalie and league's MVP.

"I really want to get back to playing the way I did in 2002 with the Wings and with the Sabres in 1999," said Hasek. "That's going to take some time, but I feel like I can get there. I've been working hard and I'm feeling good.

"I know there is pressure on the goalie. There is always pressure on the goalie. That comes with the job. I have to make sure I'm ready to play every night and I have to make the big saves to help my teammates. I'm confident I'll be able to help this team win."

Just what makes Hasek tick?

Why does a guy who had hung up his skates with a brilliant career and a Cup with the Wings in 2002 take another shot when he was enjoying the good life of retirement in the Czech Republic?

Desire.

Hasek has been determined to be the best throughout his career. Ask somebody who has worked with him or speak to somebody who has played with him. Winding up his career by leaving the Wings in the middle of the year didn't sit well with Hasek, a bit of a perfectionist.

"Did it surprise me? No, I don't think it surprised me at all when he decided to come back," says Buffalo Sabres goalie coach Jim Corsi, who worked with Hasek for three seasons. "This guy really is a special athlete. He puts so much pressure on himself to be at the top of his game all the time. When you talk about the fine athletes in the game, you have to see the way this guy works to push himself to be better.

ACHIEVE MORE

"It's why he has been able to achieve so much. When you have an athlete like him, they always want to achieve more. I know this guy and he's got the jam to do it. He's a great goaltender. It's great to see him come back ... just the way it was to see Mario Lemieux come back. You look forward to the chance to see players like this perform."

The move has caused a buzz in the dressing room. It has sent a message to the likes of Daniel Alfredsson, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Mike Fisher, Chris Neil and Martin Havlat -- the guys who have been here for a long time -- that this organization is serious about getting to the next level. Some teammates admit they're a little intimidated by Hasek when they look at his track record because he's done so much.

To watch Hasek stretch is an exercise in itself. One veteran player said they'd never seen anything like it before and that the man who was affectionately known as "Gumby" during his days with the Sabres still has plenty of flexibility to get to any puck. At least one player in the Ottawa room has seen this before and he's used to it.

"I played with him in the past and I know what he is all about," said winger Vaclav Varada, who played in front of Hasek for six seasons with the Sabres and went to the Stanley Cup final during that brilliant run in 1999.

"This is a different feeling for me. There's a lot of guys in this room who are looking at him and this is the first time they've played with him and they see this guy who has won every trophy ... except maybe a scoring title.

"I look at him differently than other guys do. They see Dominik Hasek and they're kind of thinking of everything this guy has done. I just look at him as a teammate and a regular guy.

"I know what he can do because I've played with him before. I know what he's capable of and if he does what he's capable of then we're going to be successful. He can do a lot for us."

That's what Muckler is hoping. It was a heart-to-heart chat during a stroll at the Kanata Golf and Country Club in May, 2004 that convinced Muckler this was the right move.

"I saw a man who wanted to prove people wrong and I heard the passion in his voice. Once I heard that, I decided this was the right thing for us to do," said Muckler. "I believe this is a guy who can help us win a Stanley Cup."


Photos