During a momentary lull over All-Star weekend in Ottawa, the League's best players were asked to select their MVP for an anonymous NHL.com poll. To no one's surprise, the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin dominated the anonymous ballot, but one player mentioned caused something of a stir.
"Marian Hossa," said the player.
"Final answer?" the NHL pollster asked.
"Of course," the All-Star responded before finding Hossa nearby and giving him a friendly fist bump.
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Through a challenging up-and-down season, the Hawks have turned countless times to Hossa for leadership. It's an interesting development for the talented Slovak, who before signing a 12-year deal with Chicago in 2009 was considered a quiet nomad after playing with three clubs in two seasons. Three seasons and one Stanley Cup later, his Chicago teammates see a very different Marian Hossa.
"I wouldn't say he's quiet. He's really witty and smart with his chirps and making fun of people. He's undercover funny," Patrick Kane told NHL.com. "But he's great for the locker room. He always seems to be in a great mood and is never complaining about anything. When you see a guy that successful do that, it kind of weighs on you a little bit."
That professionalism was already on display when Hossa arrived in Ottawa in 1997. After leading the team in scoring in his first NHL training camp, the 18-year-old Hossa led the Portland Winter Hawks to the Memorial Cup before suffering a severe knee injury in the third period of the championship game. The injury caused Hossa to miss the beginning of his rookie season in Ottawa, but the maturity he demonstrated in his rehab impressed a young, up-and-coming Senators team.
"He came back to Ottawa to have the surgery and spend the whole summer rehabbing and training. I think he came back a better player than the year before," Jacques Martin, Hossa's coach in Ottawa, told NHL.com. "He's such a tremendous worker off the ice, his commitment to his rehab and training was unbelievable."
This season, in a Blackhawks campaign full of adversity, Hossa led the team in points, assists, and power-play goals and provided a constant spark. Right out of the gate, the All-Star winger led the Hawks to an 8-2-3 start by registering 13 points in the team's first 12 games. He continued that pace into January, when he enjoyed a season-long nine-game point streak in which he collected 11 points and led the club to a 5-2-2 record. Around the time that streak ended, the team began to suffer through what would become a nine-game losing skid that dropped the Hawks from first overall to sixth in the West. It was, without any doubt, the lowest point of a tough season in Chicago.
Almost on cue, the forgettable stretch ended with an offensive outburst from Hossa, who collected two points in a 4-2 skid-busting win over the Rangers. Spearheaded by a four-game Hossa point streak, the Hawks rebounded to win four straight.
"He's a very steady guy and very enjoyable guy to have in the locker room; a guy you want on your team," captain Jonathan Toews said. "He's a horse. He can do it all. He can kill penalties. He's big and strong. He's fast. He carries two guys on him and still keeps the puck."
That good nature and flair for the clutch came in especially handy later this season. With Toews out of the lineup since Feb. 19, Hossa has led by example. The Hawks went 13-5-4 without their captain, with Hossa's 19 points leading the team. When Duncan Keith was suspended five games at the end of March, the Hawks were left missing two All-Stars. Chicago went 2-1-2 in those five games, Hossa providing three points.
"Everybody will talk about the guy who scores the goals, but at the end of the night, he [Hossa] is the guy who just keeps pulling things the whole way," Toews said. "If you're missing him, you're going to notice it because he's killing penalties, he's back-checking, he's playing defense and he's creating all the plays out there too."
With the Hawks looking to bring the Cup back to Chicago, Hossa could soon start gaining more League-wide recognition as a clubhouse leader.
"I think when he wants to be, he's probably the best player in the League," Kane said. "It's unbelievable. He just does everything right. He's had a great season."