If the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this season, fans should remember Monday night’s win over Edmonton, the player who scored the magical overtime goal, and the backdrop in which he did it.
Less than a week after taking a forearm to the back of the head from the Canucks’ Jannik Hansen, it was Marian Hossa who jostled and elbowed his way for the puck. Nikolai Khabibulin denied Hossa’s first shot, but Hossa slapped in his own rebound for the win. His scrappy heroics extended Chicago’s record-breaking point streak to 19.
Hossa’s goal should remind us that he knows a thing or two about being in a tough spot. You know, that he’s the Hoss and all. That his rise-and-fight-again attitude has been a precious commodity for the Blackhawks, who remain undefeated in regulation at 16-0-3.
Following Raffi Torres’ season-ending hit on Hossa in the first round of last year’s playoffs, Chicago wasn’t expecting much from him in 2012-2013, at least not early on. But he used the lockout to his advantage, and came back healthy.
The Blackhawks, led by by Hossa, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews, have been extraordinary thus far. But Hossa’s comeback from the Vancouver game and his feisty goal on Monday remind us that the team has also been lucky in avoiding serious injury. To make the most of their sensational start, Hossa will have to continue to absorb hits and bounce back strong.
Rest assured, resilience is written on his resume.
From Stará Ľubovňa to Ottawa
A first-round draft selection out of Stará Ľubovňa, Czechoslovakia, Hossa made his NHL debut for the Ottawa Senators in 1998. He missed the first two months of his rookie season (knee), but still managed to notch 15 goals and 15 assists in 60 games. In 2002-03 it became clear Hossa was morphing into a star, scoring 45 goals in the regular season and leading Ottawa to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
After another romping season with the Senators in 2003-04 (36 goals, 46 assists), Hossa spent the following lockout season playing in Europe. He scored 74 points in just 46 games, switching back and forth between Mora IK (Sweden) and HC Dukla Trencin (Slovakia).
After the lockout, it was a freak accident that got Hossa traded from Ottawa. In September 2003, Atlanta Thrashers star winger Dany Heatley crashed his Ferrari into a wall, killing his passenger Dan Snyder, a close friend and teammate. After the lockout, Heatley told the Thrashers he would like to be traded, as the daily reminders of the accident would be too heavy to bear. Dealing him to the Senators, the Thrashers got Hossa, who scored 92 points in his first season (2005-06), and set a franchise record with 100 points in the next.
But after Atlanta, he hit a rough patch of ice.
Two Cups of Heartbreak
The Slovak sensation would find himself in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009, losing both.
In late February in his final contract year with the Thrashers, Hossa joined the already star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins. In his debut, the right-winger reinjured his knee and sat for six games. Still coming in third in playoff scoring that season, he was a key factor in Pittsburgh’s playoff run to the Finals. But his first act on center stage would close without applause, as the Red Wings beat the Penguins in six.
As an unrestricted free agent after that season, Hossa opted for a shorter contract and a better opportunity to win it all, taking a one-year deal with Detroit. In a game against the Blues, Hossa laid motionless on the ice after a hit along the boards from Roman Polak. Although the hit would lead only to minor neck problems, it was the first time Hossa was carried off the ice in a stretcher. But it wasn’t his last.
Hossa thought the move to Detroit would get him his first championship, but the Penguins beat Detroit in seven games that year, and he remained ringless.
As early as March that very season, Hossa proclaimed his eagerness to sign a long-term deal with Detroit. “I know if I go somewhere else I could have more, but I’m willing to take less to stay here. Hopefully things work out.”
The Windy City Payoff
Instead, Hossa came to Chicago. Almost exactly one year after signing with the Red Wings, he inked a 12-year, $62.8 million deal with the Blackhawks.
Aside from the massive financial commitment, the Blackhawks took an immediate hit by signing Hossa. The addition forced out their leading scorer from the previous season, Martin Havlat. Chicago’s newest import also came with some risk. It was announced shortly after the signing that Hossa’s shoulder would require surgery, and demanded his absence for the first eight weeks with the Hawks.
In his much anticipated debut, Hossa scored two goals in the Hawks’ 7-2 win over the talented San Jose Sharks.
After becoming the first player to appear in three straight Stanley Cup Finals for three different clubs, the “Hossa Hex” was over. Hossa scored 51 points in 57 games in the 2009-10 regular season, and the Hawks beat the Flyers 4-2 for their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
This season, Hossa is playing better defense up front and handling the puck as beautifully as ever.
“He’s probably never been in this good of shape in his life,” Coach Joel Quenneville told ESPNChicago’s Scott Powers before the season. “He’s fine. He’s ready to go. He’s ready to play. We anticipate using him in all situations. We know the importance he brings to our team, what he can do for our team.”
Although his final numbers from this condensed season might not reflect it, an asterisk should justify this season as one of his best. He’s transitioned into a solid two-way player who controls the puck as well as anybody in the league. Aside from being their best power forward, he’s also become a perfect complement to Toews.
Without Hossa, a 19-game point streak doesn’t happen. Everybody knows Hossa is a tough player to beat. But this season the Hoss is just proving he’s even tougher to break.