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Roloson barrel roll a reminder of Hasek brilliance

Dominik Hasek, shown here in his final NHL years with the Red Wings, didn't always look like the rest of the NHL, but today's goalies can still learn a lot from his save selections.

It wasn’t quite as smooth as the Dominator, but watching 41-year-old Islanders goalie Dwayne Roloson channel his inner Dominik Hasek and throw a barrel roll attempt at Anaheim’s Teemu Selanne on a breakaway Wednesday (video below) brought back a lot of good memories.

Roloson didn’t quite go full Hasek. He only got halfway through the barrel roll. But it was still a great reminder of the often misunderstood brilliance of Hasek, a six-time Vezina Trophy winner whose unorthodox style was too often dismissed as a fluke. While Roloson laughed and shrugged his shoulders dismissively as if to say “I have no idea what I just did” shortly after sprawling to turn aside Selanne, the reality is Hasek was always aware and in control.

As he once told InGoal Magazine, the “barrel roll” was actually a well planned save selection that he used in very specific circumstances. It was easy to brush off as a fluke if you only saw it executed once, but after watching Hasek use it over and over again – and use the same “technique” in the same save situations each time – you realize there is a science to the style.

“I was doing it in 80s, I do it in 90s, I do it in this century, it’s nothing new,” Hasek told InGoal. “I know I was doing it in the Czech Republic in the 80s and I don’t know if some older goalie taught me or if I seen it. It was too many years ago.”

With a forward cutting in alone in tight from his left to right, Hasek said he the extended blocker and stick to either knock the puck away or force the shooter to pull the puck back into his skates and continue going wide. From there he quickly discovered the only way to continue this extension to the right post was to roll over on his back, and throw the glove side arm down along the ice.

Hasek then kicked his legs straight up to try and take away the top of the net in case the shooter had the patience to try and wait him out. In the end it looked like some kind of bizarro-world butterfly, with Hasek’s arms extended along the ice to take away the bottom of the net and the legs up in the air acting like a torso would in a normal butterfly save.

“When he’s coming from my left side and he makes the move far around the net it’s just one of these you do because this is the only way to stop that puck,” Hasek said in his signature staccato broken English. “I know I do it in certain situations but you don’t think about it. It just comes if you see a forward move farther and farther and nobody stop him. And if there’s nobody to help I have to do it myself so the two pads go up. You have to be smart with what you’re doing. I never really change my style at all, but it’s the practice, it’s the way you read the game, you have to know when you can do it. It’s something that is hard to describe or explain. It just becomes experience.”

More on Hasek’s misunderstood brilliance below this video of Roloson’s barrel roll

Known commonly as the Dominator, Hasek was called a lot of other things while he racked up that experience over 16 NHL seasons. Presumably, as he continues to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League at the age of 45, he still hears some of them today, just in other languages.

Unorthodox. A flopper. A fluke. Of course, he’s also been called the greatest goaltender in the world, by no less an authority than the game’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky.

So how do you rectify the nickname with the naysayers? How does a goaltender who played the position so differently from everyone else, do it so much better than so many?

How can a guy who spent so much time on his back, dropped his stick to pick up pucks, and charged madly out of his net to stop breakaways, have six Vezina and two Hart Trophies for his mantel, a Stanley Cup ring for his finger and an Olympic gold medal for his neck?

Don’t ask Hasek for any answers. He may be blessed with a spine like a Slinky and a brain like a super computer, but he quickly becomes as awkward talking about how he makes saves as he sometimes looks making them.

“I just try to do anything I can to stop the puck and that’s the way I play,” said Hasek.

Some of the saves may only be possible because of his Gumby-like flexibility and Jedi powers of concentration and anticipation, but Hasek worked harder to perfect his methods. They included never giving up on a save and always having one last limb (or even his head) left to throw out at a shooter. (In some ways it is echoed today by the equally misunderstood style of Tim Thomas).

Some of Hasek’s technique was even in tune with the fundamentals every modern goalie learns from a young age. He read plays and pucks off sticks better then anyone in the game and played angles – both the traditional east-west concept and the newer idea of vertical angles – as well as most. And he always seemed to arrive with his chest square to the shooter, even if the way he arrived sometimes defied all teaching, not to mention a few basic laws of physics.

If Hasek was sometimes more aggressive in his positioning, challenging more than most modern goalies dare, it was because his ESP-like anticipation allowed him to try and stay a step ahead of the shooters, forcing them to rush both decisions and shots, often taking away their first option by seeing it – and denying it – before they’d even considered a Plan B.

Think he came charging out to the hash marks on a breakaway on a whim? Think again.

It was usually because he noticed the opposing forward, often sprung by a long, hard pass, was looking down while he tries to settle the puck on his stick.

By the time they looked up, Hasek was usually on top of them.

“He’s kind of unorthodox but he takes away time and space and forces guys to make good shots,” Ray Emery, a rookie backup behind Hasek in Ottawa in 2005-06, once told InGoal. “Even though he’s doing a two-pad slide instead of a butterfly, it’s still the same objective: Take away the bottom of the ice and make guys put the puck over him. He’s really good at taking lanes away too. He reads plays and that’s why you’ll see sometimes he’ll come flying out if he sees a guy on a breakaway has his head down, or if a guy is cutting down the wing, he’ll cut that lane off between the D-man and the near post.

“These things are all calculated, it’s not like he’s just flopping around in there.”

That Hasek has a history of making tough saves look easy is a credit to his innate ability to read plays before they happened. His ability to contort a lithe five-foot-11, 177-pound frame into don’t-try-this-at-home positions may have dominated the highlight reels, but at the heart of Hasek’s decade and a half of dominance was a widely underappreciated intelligence.

Maybe it was his halted English or the fact he wore his celebrity like an itchy wool sweater, but few seemed to recognize Hasek as a closet intellectual. He is an accredited high school teacher in his native Czech Republic, has the equivalent of a master’s degree in history, and according to friends could be a grand master in chess, where he concentrates hard enough to bend spoons and think 10 to 12 moves ahead of the board.

When Hasek was on his game on the ice – a state in which he once said he sees 90 per cent of the pucks and feels another five per cent coming at him – it’s not a stretch to say he did the same.

Just like the chess board, Hasek was known to play head games with shooters, baiting them by showing a little space where he thought they would be looking, then taking it away before they can take advantage of it. If Hasek was unpredictable, it was often by design.

“You have to be smart with what you’re doing,” Hasek said. “If you give them something to shoot at, you can set them up for failure.”

Which may not have been the case with Roloson on Wednesday, given his surprised reaction after the save on Selanne. But that doesn’t mean other goalies can’t still learn a lot from Hasek.

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.

6 Comments

  1. paul szabo

    Anyone who read or still has the copy of Goalies World Magazine from several years back that analyzed Hasek’s style might recall that in fact he had a rather conventional butterfly style- but only for the initial save or the first part of his save sequence. It seems that Hasek was so flexible that he could go from the butterfly position, twist his hips and them turn on his side, doing that famous roll, continuing all the way around to even make the save with his back to the play. In that regard he really was an innovator. Despite the Gumby nickname, I don’t think he was as much of a floppy improvisor as some believe. Interviews with him suggest that there was actually a method to his madness. I believe it is the same with Tim Thomas. His style is more subtle and harder to define, but he is not just making it up as he goes along.

    Reply
  2. Matt in Montreal

    Another excellent article from Mr. Woodley. I’m really digging this pro-analytical look at goaltending coupled with great writing.

    I hated Hasek (like most Canadians. Cuz he beat us), but I later learned the ‘hate’ mostly stemmed from Hasek never defended himself.

    How dare he be so good and not tell us how he did it?!

    But then! Then he says the reason he doesn’t do interviews is (I’m paraphrasing here) because he hears other players talk and they all say the same crap: “Obviously, obviously, obviously…” etc.

    That’s when I put down the hate and slipped on the Hasek love.

    Reply
  3. Matt in Montreal

    P.S.

    If I win the Warwick Contest, I’m going for the Hasek mask.

    I’m currently wearing the classic SK2000 and the slapshots to the forehead are frikkin’ killing me.

    Peace.

    Reply
  4. Garry

    With all do respect to both you as the writer, and to Mr. Roloson, this breakaway was played terribly. He was flat footed meaning he had very little momentum which forced him into a horrible position and desperate. Selanne actually lost the puck for a split second from a hook. Roloson started his retreat far to early which forced him to be flat footed.

    Hasek played for a great defensive team in Buffalo, yes great, and in the Olympics in 1998 the Czech defense was the star of that show. Against Canada in the semi finals and against Russia in the Gold medal game the Czechs gave up an average of 20 shots a game with very few, I mean very few, scoring chances. Look it up and watch those two games again. All perimeter shots.

    Reply
  5. Scott

    You are so wrong Gary. I remember that olympics really well and Hasek was just dominant while the Czech team was outplayed in their last three games at least (US, Canada, Russia) and it was only because of him that they were able to win. Watch the US Czech game (I think it was the quarter finals), the Czech had no business winning that game. Same with Canada and Russia but I think Hasek played his best game against the US.

    Reply
  6. Anonimos

    Watching that video it’s pretty crazy how slimiar Daigle’s hit on Hasek was to Lucic on Miller. Of course that team cleaned Daigle’s clock later in the game but it’s interesting to see.

    Reply

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