Hossa happy with city, Blackhawks
CHICAGO -- At one point in his career, Marian Hossa had played for five NHL organizations in six seasons.
He finally found Stanley Cup Playoffs salvation with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, and the Windy City has become his North American home. Though he has settled in with this city and this organization, Hossa is probably going to need to have a chat with one of his neighbors.
Hossa played 34:18 Wednesday night in Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, a 4-3 triple-overtime victory against the Boston Bruins, and arrived at his home early Thursday morning, only to receive an earlier-than-expected wake-up call.
"To tell you the truth, [I] fell asleep around 3 [a.m.]. Woke up early -- I think my neighbor decide he [was] going to drill in the morning," Hossa said Thursday at United Center. "That was unpleasant. You know, hopefully is going to get his message for next time, he won't drill. [I] feel a little tired today. We are lucky, like [Brent Seabrook] said, we got extra day, you know, to recharge the batteries and get back on Game 2."
For a player whose career was once defined by his critics for playoff disappointments, Hossa has crafted his own individual dynasty. This is the fourth time in six seasons the native of Slovakia has played in the Stanley Cup Final.
He was incredible for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring 12 goals and 26 points in 20 games to help that young club reach the Final after arriving just before the NHL Trade Deadline in a deal from the Atlanta Thrashers.
But his team fell short against the Detroit Red Wings, the organization he joined the following season on a one-year contract. When Pittsburgh exacted revenge on Hossa and Detroit, it magnified his team’s struggles in the postseason, which dated to when he was with the Ottawa Senators early in his career.
Hossa changed the narrative, and maybe his legacy, the following year. After signing a 12-year contract with the Blackhawks, he lifted the Cup for the first time. Three years later, Hossa has the chance to do it again.
"Somebody said I was choosing good teams when I was [a] free agent," Hossa said. "But now I [am] signed long-term. We have a great group of guys. We find a way after a couple years to go to the Final again. This year was [a] great year for us."
Chicago’s other star forwards, notably Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, have struggled to produce consistently during this year's playoffs. The Blackhawks have been buoyed by depth scoring and great goaltending, but also by the consistent brilliance of Hossa and defenseman Duncan Keith.
Hossa has been the Blackhawks' most consistently great forward. He has seven goals and a team-leading 15 points this postseason, but he’s also been a dynamic player at both ends of the ice and one of the keys to Chicago’s incredible penalty-killing unit, which has killed 56 of 59 opposition power plays this spring.
Hossa had one assist in Game 1 against Boston, setting up rookie Brandon Saad for the team’s first goal. It was also one of the best games Hossa has played this postseason.
Hossa’s line, along with Toews and either Saad or Patrick Sharp, saw a majority of its ice time at even strength against perhaps the most formidable defensive trio in the League: Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Chicago’s top line did not shy away from the challenge and controlled the play for long stretches.
When Hossa was on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks had 30 shot attempts that were either on goal or missed, to 13 for the Bruins, or a plus-17 in the advanced statistic Fenwick. Toews was a plus-21.
Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr -- a line that normally fares very well in this measure of puck possession -- were minus-9 or minus-10. Hossa had a game-high 10 shots on goal, and his 16 shot attempts were more than anyone on either team.
"Hossa was really strong last night," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday. "I thought he had the puck a lot. Defensively you can always rely on him, his backside pressure, speed, quickness. He had the puck a lot. [Hossa] was good."
Chara and Hossa are friends dating to their days on the same junior team in Slovakia. These days, they are neighbors in their offseason home of Trencin.
Hossa knew he was likely to see a lot of his old buddy in this series; he expected it to be a significant challenge.
"He's the biggest guy on the ice. His stick is so big," Hossa said of the 6-foot-9 defenseman. "If you don't move your feet, he's going to hurt you, he's going to come close to you and pin you on the board. You have to make sure you're moving your feet, stop and start. It's not easy.
"But if it's possible, it's better to play on the other side."
It took the Blackhawks three seasons to get back to the Final, but for Hossa in particular the journey was not a direct path. His time in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended because of an illegal hit to the head from Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres.
Torres was hit with a long suspension, and Hossa had to deal with recovering from a serious concussion. It was a process that took longer than expected.
"I thought I was right when I [came] here after the convention [in late July]," Hossa said. "I come here to work out. As soon as I was skating, started doing more exercises on the ice, I realize that's not me. For me, it worked out there was a lockout so I could [take an] extra couple months to skate on my own, get into shape. I was doing bicycle and you [are] just pedaling, right?
"As soon as I go on the ice, all of a sudden there was [a] bunch of guys skating beside me. There is so many new things, the puck is coming your way, you have to shoot, skate, watch the players -- so many things going through your mind. I knew I wasn't ready for it. It worked for me there was a lockout. I could go back and take my time. When the season started, I was ready."
Hossa has a well-earned reputation as one of the best two-way forwards in hockey. He doesn’t have to carry the team every night like he might have been expected to in Ottawa or Atlanta -- but at 34 years old he still can.
He has work to do, but his resume is starting to look like one that merits consideration for a future spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is approaching 500 career goals and 1,000 points despite spending most of his career in a low-scoring era.
Hossa's 112 postseason points are fifth among active players, and a second Stanley Cup run in which he was one of the team’s top players would cement the playoff portion of his credentials.
"It's an accomplishment to be in the Finals," Chara said. "We were obviously very happy for him when it happened for him for the third time. I've been saying that for many years -- he's one of the best players in the League."
Hossa has also been an elite player at the international level -- he has 25 points in 15 games at the Winter Olympics for Slovakia and 41 in 52 contests at the World Championships.
The Hall of Fame is a discussion for a time several years from now. In the present, Hossa is focused on winning the Cup for a second time in four seasons and enjoying another turn on the League’s biggest stage.
"I always appreciate when I make it to the Finals," Hossa said. "This time of year, still playing hockey -- it's been great. I definitely appreciate it. I'm still healthy, I can play on a high level. Like I said before, I was glad I could return and be myself. I'm here now."
He’s also embracing his time with the Blackhawks and in this city -- despite the occasional noisy neighbor.
"Oh, yeah, for sure," he said when asked whether he's happy in Chicago. "I've been here mostly, what is it, four years. So definitely I love the city, love the atmosphere here. Great team, great organization -- I feel really like at home here."