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Gaborik happy host for Rangers' game in Bratislava

by Dan Rosen
GOTHENBURG, Swe. -- Instead of taking the time to romanticize the idea of a national hockey star returning to his nation's capital to play with his NHL club, Marian Gaborik's friends and family couldn't wait to ask him the question.

"Everybody was like, 'Can you hook me up with some tickets?'" Gaborik told

He did, which is why 50 of his family members and closest friends will be in Bratislava on Sunday to watch the local team, HC Slovan, face Gaborik's New York Rangers at Ondrej Nepela Arena.

Gaborik is from Trencin, which is roughly a 60-minute drive from Bratislava, so the journey will be easy for everyone.

"I think I made a lot of people smile because I got them tickets, and it's on TV as well," Gaborik said. "A lot of people are going to be able to enjoy it."

"I think I made a lot of people smile because I got them tickets, and it's on TV as well. A lot of people are going to be able to enjoy it." -- Marian Gaborik

Gaborik won't get much of a chance to spend time with all of his people because the Rangers fly in to Bratislava early Sunday afternoon and leave for Zurich, Switzerland immediately following the game. However, he'll get to do something special for a few hours in a familiar arena in front of thousands of fans who have called the right wing their own since he became a national star.

"I had a preview of it in Prague, and it's going to be fun there," said Gaborik, who had close to a dozen fans watching him and the Rangers play at Tesla Arena on Thursday. "It's going to be a little different to play almost at home for an opposing team, so it's going to be interesting. It's a new rink and I have a lot of family over there. It's going to be exciting for them, myself, and for fans, as well."

The event will also be emotional for Gaborik. The last time he played a game in Ondrej Nepela Arena, it was for the Slovakian national team in the 2011 IIHF World Championship.

It also was Pavol Demitra's final time in a Slovakian jersey.

Demitra, one of Gaborik's closest friends, died Sept. 7 in the plane crash that killed 44 people, including the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv KHL hockey team.


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"There are going to be a lot of emotions," Gaborik said. "And the game itself is going to be different. I've got to get pumped up for it, so hopefully we can have a good one."

Even though his time in Bratislava will be limited, Gaborik appreciates the idea that the NHL again chose Slovakia for a preseason game.

Tampa Bay played HC Slovan in 2008, and Gaborik sees Sunday's game as another way to promote hockey in his country. He said it's already the country's No. 1 sport, but Slovakians like Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara and, until his untimely death, Demitra, have worked hard to get their nation back among the elite in the international hockey world.

Slovakia finished fourth at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. It was the country's best finish in the Olympics since Czechoslovakia was divided Jan. 1, 1993.

"It's a small country and hockey is the No. 1 sport there, so you can imagine that pretty much everybody is a hockey fan there, so the popularity is big," Gaborik said. "It's good to have that kind of fan base. Hopefully we can get the Slovakian hockey in terms of youth and national teams back to where we used to be. We need to get out from this hole we were in, work with young players better to get to where we can be."

There should be plenty of young players in the stands Sunday. Gaborik wants to put on a show for all of them.

"It's pretty much home for me," he said, "and this doesn't happen every day."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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