As a young kid growing up in Slovakia, Marko Dano sometimes went a while between visits with his dad.
Jozef Dano was playing professional hockey in the Czech Republic and also had a stint in Russia while Marko was in Trencin, Slovakia – the same hometown as one-time Blue Jackets forward (and Slovakian hockey legend) Marian Gaborik. The days off were few and far between, but when they came, Jozef was high-tailing it home to see Marko.
Dad was playing five hours from home but that didn’t stop him from getting quality time in with his young son, who would pick up the game of hockey on his own accord in short order.
“He was still playing when I was young and it was a busy schedule, but whenever he could come back and spend time with me, he did,” Dano told BlueJackets.com.
Marko was a first-round pick of the Blue Jackets (No. 27 overall) in 2013 and is coming off a strong rookie season in the NHL, but his father was the first in the household to have a successful playing career. Jozef played into his late 30s, a career that included stops in at least three different countries and two appearances (1994 and 1998) with the Slovakian national team at the Olympic Winter Games.
Son spent a lot of time watching father play hockey, so he was introduced to the game at a young age – but Marko insists that following in his father’s footsteps was a natural development.
“I became a hockey player naturally, I think, and it wasn’t just because my dad played,” Dano said with a smile. “I still have a picture from when I was maybe two years old, and I got my first stick…I was so excited. It was my first hockey present and I loved it. I played with him outside, with the other kids, in the offseason. Those are great memories.”
Jozef retired when Marko was a teenager and getting set to begin a hockey career of his own. The younger Dano played two seasons – between 2010 and 2012 – with his hometown club, Dukla Trencin, before moving to the KHL club Bratislava. His mature, well-rounded game earned him three national team appearances (IIHF World Junior Championship and the men’s World Championship) before the age of 21 and caught the eye of Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
Just like his father, Marko worked his way up. Jozef’s time with the Slovakian national team was notable for their start in the third international division before the team gradually kept improving. That climb culminated in two Olympic tournament appearances in Lillehammer, Norway, and Nagano, Japan – the latter being the first time NHL players were permitted to play in the Olympics.
But those memories – and there were several along the way in Marko’s childhood – paled in comparison to Oct. 11, 2014.
Jozef flew from Slovakia to Columbus in time for Marko’s home debut at Nationwide Arena, a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers in front of a loud, sold-out crowd.
And at 13:47 of the third period, Marko scored his first NHL goal by burying a rebound in the slot, giving the Blue Jackets a big insurance marker late in regulation. The celebration was emotional and unforgettable: a kiss to his girlfriend, Miriam, and a wave to his old man on the other side of the lower bowl.
It was, unequivocally, one of the moments between father and son that will be shared and cherished forever.
“Great timing by him,” Dano said.
“He’s my dad, and he’s my hockey idol. It was great for me. It was amazing. He came into town, watched my first NHL game and I scored my first goal. Special night for us and I was so happy he could be here to see it.”