The way he still plays, so dominating at times and always consistent, it's easy to forget that Marian Hossa is playing his 15th season in the National Hockey League.
Hossa, who turned 34 in January, is in the fourth year of a monster 12-year contract he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 2009-10 season -- the year he and the Blackhawks finally won a Stanley Cup.
"When you look back, it looks like it [went fast]," Hossa said Friday night, after helping Chicago defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime to stay unbeaten in regulation after 21 games. "So many years went by so quick. I remember as an 18-year old, jumping in this League [and] all of a sudden I'm 34 with 1,000 games coming up. The time flies."
It passed almost as fast as Hossa, who has burned many a defender during a career that's spanned five teams -- beginning with a seven-game debut in the 1997-98 season for the Ottawa Senators.
After spending parts of seven years in Ottawa, the team that took the Slovakian superstar with the 12th pick in the 1997 NHL Draft, Hossa played for the Atlanta Thrashers for three seasons followed by a pair of memorable one-year stints with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings prior to landing in the Windy City.
Along the journey, Hossa has achieved a number of individual accomplishments. He's scored 40 or more goals three times, racked up a 100-point season in 2007 with the Thrashers, scored 426 career goals to go with 495 assists for a 921 points, and finally won that Cup in 2010 with the Blackhawks.
That was Hossa's third-straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, after failing to win hockey's most prized trophy the previous two years while playing for the Penguins (who lost to Detroit in 2008) then the Red Wings (who lost to Pittsburgh in 2009). Already in his fourth season with the Blackhawks, who are the top team in the NHL, Hossa said game No. 1,000 has given him reason to take a quick glance back at all that he's done so far.
"It's an honor for me to reach this milestone," Hossa said. "Over those years, when I think about it, I played with many great players and I'm just glad I'm making this milestone. Hopefully I've got a few more left."
Over the years, Hossa has teamed up with Alexei Yashin and Daniel Alfredsson in Ottawa, Peter Bondra and Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, and Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. He now plays right wing on Chicago's top line with 24-year old superstar Jonathan Toews at center.
Toews may be the Blackhawks captain and unquestioned leader, but when he talks about Hossa he sounds like the fan he used to be as a teenager.
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"The years he's been here in Chicago, he's been an amazing guy to have [around]," Toews said. "I remember watching him play for the Ottawa Senators and [he was] one of my favorite players along with Martin Havlat. To have a chance to play with him now and to win a Stanley Cup with him and everything else in-between is pretty special."
That's coming from the guy who's become a superstar in his own right.
"As a young guy coming into the League, you're always excited to play against some of your childhood heroes," Toews said. "To share the locker room with a guy like Marian Hossa, who I watched for many years before I ever became a pro, is a huge honor and special thing."
Hossa's nine goals and eight assists this season rank him third on the Blackhawks in points (17), trailing Toews (18) and Patrick Kane (25). After an illegal hit by Raffi Torres during last spring's first-round Stanley Cup Playoff loss to the Phoenix Coyotes left him with a severe concussion, Hossa used the offseason and extended time during the lockout to heal.
The results thus far have been impressive.
"He's a tremendous player," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Overall … offensively and defensive positionally, he's exactly how you want [your] team to play."
And to think, the Detroit Red Wings had a chance keep Hossa as an unrestricted free agent following the 2008-09 season -- his lone year with Detroit, when he scored 40 goals and added 31 assists. At the time, Detroit had only so much room in salary-cap space to sign three star UFA players.
The Red Wings opted to sign Zetterberg and power forward Johan Franzen, both homegrown products of their system, which paved the way for Hossa to sign with the Blackhawks. Now, he'll pay his 1,000th game against Detroit.
"I knew they had to sign three big players … either me, [Zetterberg] or Franzen," Hossa said. "Obviously, [Zetterberg] was their No. 1 choice, and when they signed Franzen, I knew I probably wouldn't fit [under] their cap. So I knew I'd probably have to move somewhere else and Chicago was a great fit … lots of good young hockey players. So it worked out well."
The question now becomes: How much longer will Hossa play?
"As long as I can," he said. "Obviously, you never know what can happen [with injuries], so I go game-by-game and try to play my best. Hopefully I've still got a long eight years left. That's my goal."
If he reaches it, Hossa will be 42. If there's anybody who can be effective for that long of a career, it's probably Hossa, who prides himself on his physical conditioning. That much is obvious just by watching him continue to dominate on both sides of the puck.
"As a coach, he reinforces that team aspect game in [and] game out," Quenneville said. "He plays at a high pace [and] has the puck a lot. [He] sees plays and makes plays. He plays in all situations. He's exactly what you want in a top player."