Dominator feels the love

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 6:24 PM ET

BUFFALO -- Sabres 2, Senators 1 (SO)

Of course they love the Dominator here. You could tell that early on, just by the way about 17,451 of the 17,451 at HSBC Arena were chanting his name in unison after the first goal of the night slipped by him.

They have to love Dominik Hasek for nine seasons of mostly exceptional goaltending he provided the Sabres and for the $1-million cheque he signed enabling underprivileged inner city kids to play hockey in the Hasek's Heroes program started a few years back.

And they have to love him here because who else has had the nerve to physically attack a sportswriter -- those know-it-alls who keep reminding Buffalo sports fans their NHL team has only two losing trips to the Stanley Cup final to show for its 34 years of existence and that a Scott Norwood kick tends to veer right at the most inopportune time.

Hasek, now the 41-year-old glue that holds the Senators together, snapped during the first playoff series in Ottawa's history. Not the biggest fan of then-Sabres coach Ted Nolan to begin with, Hasek pulled himself out of Game 3, complaining of a sore knee, with just over four minutes to go in the second period and the score tied 1-1.

The Sabres won that night -- despite Alexei Yashin's lone goal of the seven-game series -- but Hasek came under scrutiny from Buffalo Evening News columnist Jim Kelley, nonetheless.

When Kelley heard from the team doctor that Hasek had only a mild sprain of the MCL, he wrote a piece questioning the man's mental toughness and revealing details about his relationship with Nolan.

And the next time Kelley asked Hasek for an interview, the response he received was totally unexpected. Hasek yelled at him, pushed him and ripped his shirt before witnesses stepped in.

A few days later, Hasek issued a formal apology to Kelly, and the next week he was handed a three-game suspension and $10,000 fine by the NHL.

Vaclav Varada, a teammate of Hasek's in Buffalo and Ottawa, says the goalie is more "relaxed" at this stage of his career. He thinks it's perhaps because he has won a Stanley Cup (in Detroit) and that in Ottawa Hasek has a stronger supporting cast.

Hasek, who was his usual sprawling, diving, flipping and flopping self last night in making 26 saves in the 2-1 shootout loss, also showed some of his old spunk at the end of the second period. After a scramble in which he clearly felt a little claustrophobic, he punched Paul Gaustad, knocking the big centre to the ice and prompting loud boos from the audience. When Gaustad didn't immediately get up, Hasek skated over to see if he was okay, then gestured like he was telling the rookie "that's what happens when you start pushing me."

Kelley could have told Gaustad that awhile ago.

Stars and Stops:

In the tempo-setting first four minutes, he had Ottawa's best scoring chance, hustled back to break up a Sabres rush and crushed Jason Pominville with a hit along the boards. In other words, Mike Fisher was the Senators' best all-round player, just like he has been for much of the season ... Question -- what former Senator now sells drugs for a living? Answer below ... Was there a convoy of fans from Ottawa here last night or what? Sure sounded like it after Bryan Smolinski scored.

Between Periods:

In a season that has already provided you a number of thrills, Sens fans, don't you miss the days when Anton "A-Train" Volchenkov regularly lived up to his nickname with bone-jarring hits? ... The big boys at TSN have told Pierre "Knows Everything" McGuire they'll give him a chance to work the booth for a half of a CFL game this season, but that's more for him than it is for them. "I just love the CFL," Pierre said. "I'm an addict."

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...:

Took awhile, but, as the Buffalo paper declared this week, "Brian Campbell has arrived as an NHL defenceman." Writing about the play of Campbell in Thursday's 4-2 win over Philadelphia, Buffalo News columnist Bob DiCesare reported that the former 67's star "was all over the ice, flying end to end," and that "at times you had to wonder if it was 1985 and Phil Housley was back in a Sabres uniform." Pretty strong praise, considering Housley is 33rd on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 1,232 points in a 1,495-game career that ended in 2002-03 ... Campbell's comfort level has grown significantly this season, as is evident in a TV interview he did the other day. When asked who he liked in the Super Bowl, he replied Pittsburgh. When asked why, he smiled and said: "Why? I don't know why. Because they're tough. Just like me."

Punch Lines:

Along with missing two games, Brian Pothier dropped five pounds while fighting the food poisoning he thinks might have been served him in a bowl of lobster bisque Monday. "I'd like to have 20 bowls of that lobster bisque," quipped Senators play-by-play man Dean Brown ... Dave Hannan, who played 34 games for the Senators in the 1996-97 season, is now a pharmaceutical supplier in Pittsburgh.

SOME THINGS WORTH NOTING...

BIRD-DOGGIN': Attending last night's game were scouts from 12 different teams, including the Florida Panthers (hello Olli Jokinen) and Chicago Blackhawks (what up, Matt Barnaby?).

RAY RAP: As one of the most frequent fighters in NHL history, Rob Ray was asked for his opinion on Brian McGrattan this week. "He's a big guy with long arms," said Ray, who wasn't. "And he's got the mentality for it. He's got a little chip on his shoulder, little bit of an ego and he's not timid." Now THAT sounds like Ray, in his hey day.

don.brennan@ott.sunpub.com


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