CHICAGO -- Slowly but surely, the Chicago Blackhawks are getting their full team ready to go.
Patrick Sharp is reportedly feeling a lot better in his recovery from an emergency appendectomy the week before training camp started. Patrick Kane's left wrist continues to heal from offseason surgery to repair a broken bone. Now, forward Marian Hossa is back after missing the first four days of camp while mourning the loss of close friend Pavol Demitra and celebrating the arrival of his first child, a daughter named Mia.
He had a long flight from Slovakia that got him into Chicago on Tuesday night and then practiced with the second of two groups at the United Center on Wednesday -- immediately raising the eyebrows of Hawks coach Joel Quenneville.
"Boy, do you ever notice him out on the ice," Quenneville said. "When the practice picked up the pace, he looked like he was in midseason form out there and didn't miss a beat. We're certainly happy to have him back and we appreciate what he's gone through and where's he's at. I think playing some hockey will help him."
Hossa, 32 and now a veteran of 12 NHL seasons, agreed with that assessment.
"I'm glad to be here and I want to thank my teammates," he said following Wednesday's workout. "They welcomed me real nice and I'm looking forward to training camp."
Hossa's daughter was born two days after the Sept. 7 plane crash that killed Demitra and 36 other members of the KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, so he had a lot of emotions to sort through in a short amount of time. He and several other Slovakian NHL players who were close friends with Demitra attended the memorial service and tried to help his family and each other cope with the sudden loss.
Hossa was also good friends with the head coach of Lokomotiv, former Detroit Red Wings assistant Brad McCrimmon, who was also killed in the crash just outside the Russian town of Yaroslavl.
"It was a sad day, not just for us (friends) but for all of Slovakia and the whole hockey world," Hossa said. "(Demitra) was a great father. It was such a tragic thing to happen to a great guy like him -- and not just him, but the whole team of Lokomotiv."
Meanwhile, his daughter's birth swung his emotions the other way. Hossa called the limited time he's been able to spend with his wife and daughter "awesome."
He probably would've liked to stay with them in Slovakia a little longer, but getting back to playing hockey may be therapeutic as well. Hossa said he used the long summer break to rest his body and train for the upcoming season after going through a frustrating 2010-11 campaign that saw him sidetracked by injuries several times.
Despite the injuries, Hossa still registered 25 goals and 57 points in 65 games -- but he hopes to stay healthier and put up better stats this season.
"I feel like my conditioning's there," he said. "It might take (a few) days to keep up with the guys. I'm just getting some speed and this is just the first practice for me, but I felt pretty good. The long summer helped me to relax and for the first two months … not focus on hockey."
Now that he's back, the Hawks are hoping his focus will be dialed back into hockey. Hossa will again be an integral piece of the puzzle if the Hawks are going to re-establish themselves as one of the top teams in the Western Conference.
All it takes it one quick look at the career resume to see what kind of impact he can have on a team. That's what made last season so frustrating, for both Hossa and the Hawks.
"It looked like he was taking off, and every time it seemed like he was taking off he got hurt," Quenneville said. "He had the great start and slowed down, but having some health under his belt for a whole season would be something we'd be looking for … and I'm sure he will be looking for as well. You can't predict that stuff. Certainly he's an amazing player."
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said it's about more than just what Hossa adds on the ice. Hossa's chemistry in the locker room has been missed, as well.
"We're just glad to have him here," Toews said. "He's one of those guys we love having around the locker room. We're slowly getting our team together here."