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Michael Farber
May 05, 1997
The behavior of Dominik Hasek, Buffalo's star goalie, added a bizarre twist to the playoffs
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May 05, 1997

Headed For Trouble?

The behavior of Dominik Hasek, Buffalo's star goalie, added a bizarre twist to the playoffs

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"I was in shock when I saw Dominik come off the ice," May says. "I was just following him into the room because maybe a skate or a strap in his pads had broken. I le says he's hurt, and you get that lump in your throat. "

•Early in the third period of that game, Hasek, who had been examined by the team doctor, returned to the bench in street clothes. He was smiling and talking with teammates. He had neither crutches nor a cane, nor did he have an ice pack on his knee. After the game, a 3-2 Buffalo win, the Sabres called his status "day-to-day." Hasek made his own assessment. "My feeling is I won't be back until the end of the series," he said.

Hasek's pronouncement proved to be accurate, but it didn't jibe with the way NHL players usually go about their business. In the postseason, players take the ice even if they're hurt. The only medical excuse for sitting out is a note from the coroner. If a player can't perform, he is expected to at least make a conspicuous effort to get back into the lineup. Consider the case of two-time playoff MVP Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche, who while playing for the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 suffered a bruised shoulder in the second period of Game 5 of a first-round series against the Quebec Nordiques and had to leave the game. He took a shot of a painkiller and returned for the third period. (The following year Roy played a first-round series against the Boston Bruins with appendicitis.) One of Hasek's teammates, forward Matthew Barnaby, provided a sterling example of the playoff ethos last week, returning for Game 5 in Buffalo on Friday despite having suffered a knee sprain on April 1 that was supposed to have sidelined him for six weeks.

•Hasek didn't go to the Sabres' hotel on the team bus following Game 3. Instead, he left with Ottawa defenseman Frank Musil, a boyhood friend from the Czech Republic. While fraternizing with opposing players is common during the regular season, it is generally taboo during the playoffs. At 2:30 a.m. Hasek called Buffalo trainer Jim Pizzutelli to say that he was at Musil's house, that he felt fine, that his injured knee was propped up and that he wanted to stay there. "He kept us informed," Sabres president Larry Quinn says. But Quinn didn't inform his coach. The lines of communication on the team have been mangled by a management rift so profound it is the subject of locker room jokes, and Nolan knew nothing of Hasek's whereabouts that evening until informed by SI last Saturday. When two Buffalo players heard that Hasek had spent the night at an opponent's home, they were dumbfounded.

"Dominik just wanted some quiet time," says Musil. "He was very disappointed in his injury. He said something like that usually happens when somebody falls on you. [But in this case] there was nobody around. He kept saying that it was his fault." According to Musil, he and Hasek talked and had a few beers, and the next morning, a little before 11, he drove Hasek to the Sabres' hotel.

•Jim Kelley of The Buffalo News wrote in a column published the morning after Game 3, "I don't for a moment believe that Dominik Hasek intentionally bailed out on his coach and his teammates Monday night, but I do believe the pressure of having to be unbeatable may well be more than even he can bear." In response, Hasek read a press conference statement in the team dressing room last Thursday that said he was stung by the implication that he was out for any reason other than the injury. "I was very hurt, very hurt," Hasek would say by phone on Sunday night. "When I first read the article, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't read, I couldn't even talk well."

As Hasek delivered his statement on Thursday, his teammates literally stood behind him in a symbolic show of solidarity, a gesture that seemed too trite and cinematic to ring true. The other Buffalo players looked like props in the background of an unconvincing tableau, an overreaction that raised even more questions when Hasek left immediately after reading the text. "Quinn and Muckler had come into the room and told us to stay around, that in five minutes Dom was going to read a statement," one Sabre says. "That's the first we heard of it. Of course we were going to stand behind him if they asked. He's our teammate. And he's the guy who got us this far." Quinn says the statement was his idea.

•Last Friday night in Buffalo's Marine Midland Arena, in a corridor outside the team dressing rooms, Hasek confronted Kelley. He yelled and cursed at the journalist, who has been covering hockey since 1981 and is the president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Disputing Kelley's assertion that Hasek had sprinted from the arena the night of the injury, the goalie called Kelley a "liar" and "the worst person in the world." Kelley said they should discuss their differences quietly, but shortly after that, Hasek grabbed him around the collar and ripped his shirt before several people, including teammate Jason Dawe and two security guards, could intervene.

The Buffalo News requested an apology from Hasek, who issued one on Monday. The Sabres released a statement saying Hasek's actions were a serious matter but the team would withhold comment pending further investigation. The NHL is also investigating the incident. "I was very surprised," Nolan says of the confrontation between Hasek and Kelley. "Sportswriters, sports announcers—they're going to write or say things that make people upset. But in society, you can't go around hitting people for these reasons. We tell our children not to hit. I can't condone that."

The fallout from Hasek's wild week seemed to sap the life from the Sabres, a team that depends on effort and emotion to overcome a conspicuous lack of talent. But after losses in Games 4 and 5, the pinch-hitting Shields had 31 saves in Game 6 to wring more melodrama from a series that often was more compelling when the puck wasn't in play.

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