In the Team Chara locker room at Scotiabank Place during the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, three longtime friends cracked jokes in their native language that no one else in the room could understand. This was the Slovak section of Team Chara, a row of stalls occupied by three of the game's best players.
With Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara serving as captain and namesake for the winning team in the 12-9 contest, Slovakia was set to figure prominently in the game. But a three-goal MVP performance from countryman Marian Gaborik and three-point night from fellow Slovak Marian Hossa made it a momentous event in the country's sports history. That these three players all hail from Trencin, a western Slovakian town of roughly 56,000 inhabitants, is impressive enough.
But from the same street?
"We lived on the same street, 20 seconds from each other," said Hossa, who set up two of Gaborik's goals before scoring in the third period. "We are all really close. We played together since we are young, so we've known each other a long time."
Pod Brezinou, the Trencin street located mere minutes from the banks of the Vah River, has turned Slovakia into a hockey hotbed. The Stanley Cup first visited in the summer of 2010 when Hossa brought the trophy to town after the Blackhawks' victory over Philadelphia in the Final. The following summer, Lord Stanley made a return trip to Trencin after Chara's Boston Bruins won the Cup.
Each of the three Slovak All-Stars got their start in the sport as teenagers with the hometown Dukla Trencin junior team. By the time Gaborik began his career with the local squad, Chara and Hossa were starting their NHL careers. The two played three years together with the Ottawa Senators, winning the Presidents' Trophy in the 2002-03 season alongside team captain Daniel Alfredsson, who captained the opposing All-Star team Sunday. When Alfredsson scored two quick goals, his former Slovak teammates quietly rooted for him from the opposing bench.
"Alfie is such a classy guy and obviously a big icon in Ottawa and Sweden," Chara said. "So of course we were pulling for him [as a] longtime teammate."
Despite his best efforts, Alfredsson wasn't able to get that elusive third goal. Instead, it was Chara who notched the game-winner thanks to a nifty pass from Gaborik, who capped off a four-point night with the helper.
"That was my first shot, I think, of the game. It's nice to score at All-Star, no doubt," Chara said. "I was surprised I was open and I just put it in the net. I was more focused on staying back, not being something I'm not."
Chara may have scored the eventual winner, but it was Gaborik who was the star of stars. Unlike previous years, a vehicle wasn't awarded to this year's All-Star Game MVP. But that didn't stop the two Marians from discussing who might get the car.
"We were actually joking," Hossa said. "Asking if [Gaborik was] going to ship it to Slovakia or keep it here."
While the rest of the room couldn't understand the Slovakian banter coming from the corner of the Team Chara locker room, it was a remarkable experience for three longtime friends.
"Guys from the same country, same town, and same street playing at the All-Star Game," Hossa said. "What else could you ask for?