doesn’t remember the first time he picked up a hockey stick, but he does remember his first pair of skates, left under the Christmas tree. “I was eight, I believe. I was a terrible skater, actually. I was looking at a tape later and wow, I was terrible. But I developed and got better. I was always working and going forward.”
The hard work paid off. Ten years later, the 18-year-old Slovakian was drafted 12th in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. “That was a huge step, coming to North America that young,” says the right winger, who made his NHL debut in 1997. “I was speaking only a little bit of English, and the lifestyle, the food and the culture – it was a big transition. The first year was tough, but now it’s my second home.”
Today, the four-time All-Star and two-time Olympian seems to have found another home in Chicago. By signing a 12-year, $62.8 million contract with the Blackhawks in July, Hossa hopes to settle down for a while and add his offensive firepower and defensive punch to a young team that he punished last year as a Red Wing.
Described by teammates and coaches as a low-key superstar, Hossa, 30, is an easy-going guy off the ice who likes to joke around, says teammate Tomas Kopecky, who trains with Marian and other NHL players in Trencin, Slovakia, every summer and who grew up playing with Hossa’s younger brother, Marcel.
“He makes it more fun when you go somewhere,” says Kopecky, who also made the jump from Detroit to Chicago last summer. “On the ice, he works hard on both ends. Last year I learned a lot just watching him during games and practices. Everyone knows his offensive skills and that he can score lots of goals [Hossa led Detroit with 40 goals and added 31 assists in 74 regular-season contests last season with the Red Wings] but he competes really hard defensively as well. He’s the total package.”
Unfortunately for Hawks fans and Hossa, a shoulder injury that bothered him the past several seasons and hampered him in the playoffs delayed his Hawks debut. His torn rotator cuff was repaired on July 24, though Hossa stopped skating in early June and spent more than four months off the ice as his shoulder healed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time on a [stationary] bike,” he says smiling. “It gets old.” And it drove Hossa crazy to watch home games live and not play, especially the early-season contests with playing time months away. “I watched two games from the press box, but I wanted to jump on the ice and play – it was too much.” He changed his routine to spend the first period of each game working out, then watching the rest of the game on TV in the Hawks’ locker room.
The 6’1”, 210-pound Hossa finally started practicing with the team in early November, initially wearing a white jersey to mark him as a target not to be hit by teammates. That one appearance was enough to excite head coach Joel Quenneville, who said Hossa picked up the pace of practice.
“He’s an impact player, very useful in all areas,” said Quenneville. “Special teams, his speed, shot, size, smartness, work ethic – he’s a great guy to have around the guys, and he really adds another element to our team.”
From the very start of his career, Hossa made an impact. In his first full year in the NHL, 1998-99, Hossa led Ottawa rookies with 30 points (15G, 15A), and finished second in voting for the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year.
In 2002-03, he led the Senators and ranked 14th in the league with 80 points (45G, 35A) in 80 games. The following season, he led Ottawa and finished fifth in the NHL with 82 points (36G, 46A).
He led Atlanta and finished sixth in the NHL in 2006-07, racking up a franchise-record 100 points on 42 goals and a career-high 57 assists. Last season in Detroit, Hossa ranked eighth among NHL forwards and 12th overall with a +27 plus/minus rating.
Over 775 regular season games with Ottawa (1997-2004), Atlanta (2005-08), Pittsburgh (2007-08) and Detroit (2008-09), Hossa has registered 719 points (339G, 380A) and appeared in 98 Stanley Cup playoff games (31G, 45A), including the past two Cup finals.
“We’re pretty happy he’s on our side this year,” says Patrick Sharp
. “He’s one of the top forwards in the league. He brings a lot of experience and has that ability to play both ends of the rink. I think he’s going to help out our young team quite a bit.”