The following is excerpted from the February/March edition of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the latest issue at all Blackhawks home games, starting Feb. 19 vs. St. Louis, and at the Blackhawks Store by calling (800) GO-HAWKS.
Wayne Gretzky as an idol, you can understand. When Marian Hossa was a child in Czechoslovakia, learning to skate and to love hockey, The Great One dominated the sport at long distance. He shattered scoring records while his Edmonton Oilers collected Stanley Cups, so a youngster in a faraway place could be excused for gathering every morsel of information from North America, just as he would be permitted to arise in the middle of the night, to dream while wide awake.
“We got the finals on TV back home,” recalls Hossa. “My parents watched, too. My first reaction was ‘Wow!’ How about this man Wayne Gretzky. How about this National Hockey League. I was hooked.”
So, yes, you can understand why, to this day, the Chicago Blackhawks’ all-world right wing designates Gretzky as one of his heroes.
But Michael Jordan? In Hossa’s native land, the Chicago Bulls and pro basketball were not talking points, yet he had an eye for genius. The NBA Finals were also on the tube, and Hossa marveled at how Jordan ran the floor as his team captured twin three-peat championships. When Michael’s shot wasn’t dropping and he didn’t drive to the basket, he played defense in games as he did in practice: with absolute ferocity.
He would rebound, harass opponents with the ball, then deprive them of it. He was dangerous with hands free and different from winter to winter because he always seemed to develop another weapon every summer.
“Fantastic,” says Hossa. “I mean, being here in Chicago now, you look up at all the banners in the United Center from Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I did the same thing when he was on TV. Middle of the night. Unbelievable. I liked the way he came back [to play defense] on the court. He would beat you any way he could. Whatever it takes to beat you.”
Hossa is so unassuming that he would never mention his name in the same breath as Jordan’s — “I am not a superstar, no. A star, well, maybe,” says Marian. Yet he is one of the NHL’s shining examples of doing whatever it takes.
As a first-round draft choice and the 12th overall pick of the Ottawa Senators in 1997, Hossa admits he viewed the game through a narrow prism. He was offense-first, offense-only. But sooner than most, Hossa discovered the joys of experiencing the entire rink. Stripping an adversary of the puck can be a hoot and so is returning to the bench after a shift and hearing your defensemen compliment you on a job well done.
“Yes,” says Hossa. “I like that. Some nights, the bounces aren’t going your way, and you might not feel like you have the legs on offense. Even if it is going your way on offense, takeaways are nice. Scoring goals or passing for an assist is fun but so is the other part of the game. I learned a lot from watching guys like Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit, where I played before I came here. He’s great in both ends. He’s everywhere.”