During his extraordinary tenure with the Blackhawks, Marian Hossa always seemed to be driving a hot car to and from the United Center, appropriate wheels for a modern man of action. What would surprise is the revelation that he ever incurred a parking ticket, let alone a speeding violation.
Why so? Because Hossa didn't take many wrong turns, on the ice or in civilian life. He just got it. Most of us commit careless acts, because dabbling in dumb and dumber is human nature. But Hossa was a master of controlled spirit.
What about 2010, you say? Well, he did indeed take an ill-advised five-minute boarding penalty against Dan Hamhuis with only 1:03 left in regulation of Game 5 in the Conference Quarterfinals versus the Nashville Predators. Down 4-3 and with the series tied, Hossa put the Blackhawks in a spot you wouldn't wish on a leopard.
But Patrick Kane scored a shorthanded goal really late and then Hossa, really motivated, registered the overtime winner. Humbled, Hossa went to his knees. Then he arose to accept the game's first star. That's about it, folks, for entries on Hossa's police blotter. The Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup, the first of three to which he contributed mightily.
Video: Throwback Thursday: The Turning Point
Whether Hossa saw the future when he signed with the Blackhawks on July 1, 2009, is unknown. But given his hockey acumen, he probably had a strong hunch. Of course, he was paid, handsomely. However, the Blackhawks had dangled dollars in the past, often being refused or occasionally accepted by veterans who met the offer they couldn't refuse even if they didn't quite cut it anymore.
Hossa was so far from over the hill that he couldn't see it. Until further notice, he will be cast as the greatest free agent signing in Chicago sports history. Jon Lester of the Cubs, with one World Series ring, could challenge in time. Meanwhile, here's the parallel universe. Both acquisitions represented landmark moments for upwardly mobile franchises. That is, the Blackhawks not only wanted Hossa, but he wanted them. He became the gatekeeper for a destination point.
Others followed, gladly.
Hossa fit in to his new team like an old shoe. He patrolled every inch of the rink with zeal, as though each shift would be his last. He was as delighted about stripping an opponent of the puck as he was about a mention on the scoresheet, and if you attempted to separate him from the puck, his forearm told you otherwise. Venture onto the Hossa Highway, and you encountered the chairman of the boards who protected the puck as if it were his newborn.
Hockey fans in Chicago immediately gravitated toward Hossa's work ethic, but his popularity had no borders. When Hossa became only the 80th NHL player to record 1,000 career points in Ottawa on Oct. 10, 2014, it cued 17,529 spectators to arise. Hossa made his National Hockey League debut with the Senators in 1997, but there is no expiration date on expressing admiration. He praised Ottawa as a "special place," and Ottawa returned the compliment to a special individual.
Rare is the athlete who is as revered by adversaries as openly as by teammates, but Hossa had that certain something. His presence in the locker room or on the bus oozed a reserved sense of leadership and professionalism. To get where Hossa got requires an ego, yet his was virtually invisible. He eschewed the limelight, detested talking about himself and when pressed on his role in the cosmos, he deferred. If it is allowed to apply the word 'elegant' to a player in a rambunctious contact sport such as hockey, Hossa fits the description.
"Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are the superstars here," Hossa would say. "I am not a star. I just do what I do, the best I can, and I'm just a small piece of the puzzle here."
When the Blackhawks solved that puzzle by winning their first Stanley Cup since 1963, captain Toews clutched and raised it first in Philadelphia. Then he relayed it to Hossa.
"Class act," praised Toews.
Video: Throwback Thursday: Signing Hossa
As a lad growing up in what was then Czechoslovakia, Hossa would turn on the tube at odd hours to watch the NHL. He was wowed about the genius of Wayne Gretzky, but also taken by the selflessness and consistency of Steve Larmer, a Blackhawks forward who operated as if the only difference between a home and road game was meal money. Hossa also studied Michael Jordan, who beat foes in multiple ways. If his shot was off - and even if it was on - he came back on defense.
"Whatever it takes," noted Hossa.
Back home in Trencin, Slovakia, there's a bench bearing his name in the village square that he won't discuss unless prompted. There's also "Hossa's Heroes," a program that helps children who need it. In Chicago, off camera of course, Hossa befriended Ross MacNeill, a 10-year-old fighting a brain tumor. Sadly, he didn't make it. Yet, there was Hossa, standing in line at the funeral home. But when offered a chance to move ahead because he was a big wheel driving a hot car, Hossa declined.
"Marian's long-term contributions to the club will never be forgotten," read the statement from the Blackhawks. "He has shown us all the impact we can have on others if we conduct ourselves with character, integrity and utmost respect for all we come in contact with. On behalf of the entire organization, we would like to thank Marian - a world-class player - for all he has done for the Chicago Blackhawks."
What happened was business. The Blackhawks traded Hossa's contract because of the salary cap. But what he invoked in Chicago was pleasure, the opportunity to observe and appreciate an individual who carried himself as a common man despite possessing rare gifts.
"Best decision I ever made," Hossa allowed about signing his most impactful autograph on July 1, 2009. The Blackhawks would say the same about a free agent who helped show them the way. Whatever it takes. Unless you played with or against Hossa, he existed under the radar. Despite multiple occasions as a candidate for the Frank Selke and Lady Byng, he never won an individual award. To us, that feels unfair. To Hossa, it is probably a badge of honor.
But rest assured. When Marian Hossa is inducted into the Hall of Fame, it won't be because of what he meant to the Arizona Coyotes.