Double trouble: Why Hossa's been invaluable for the Blackhawks
MAY 21, 2014 3:00p ET
It was the final game of the regular season in April and Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville had elected to sit most of his top players.
The Blackhawks were locked into the Central Division's No. 3 seed and so it was more important for Quenneville to rest his players for a run at a third Stanley Cup in five seasons than it was to try and defeat the Nashville Predators.
The healthy scratches included captain Jonathan Toews, top defenseman Duncan Keith along with Niklas Hjalmarsson, and veteran Michal Handzus. Patrick Kane remained on injured reserve. No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford sat in favor of back-up Antti Raanta.
One of the few older veteran players who suited up that night was right wing Marian Hossa. Hossa had 29 goals, a mark he finished the regular season with on two other occasions during his 16-year NHL career. Hossa had scored at least 30 seven other times.
He wanted this crack at 30.
"Well, Q. asked me if want to play and I was here and said I might as well," Hossa said after the game. "… I want to play and as soon as I scored a goal he said I'm done."
He scored at 12:43 of the first period and then Quenneville benched him, having logged only 4:30 time on ice.
Now 35 and having suffered through his share of injuries, Hossa is a precious commodity for the Blackhawks. Toews, the '10 Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP, and Kane, the '13 Smythe winner, tend to grab the headlines, as does Keith, who won the Norris Trophy in '10 as the league's top defenseman. It's even arguable that four-time 30-goal-scorer Patrick Sharp owns a higher profile than the Hossa.
Nonetheless, Hossa is the kind of player who makes his team win. He enters Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday with a team-leading 13 points (two goals, 11 assists). This season marks his sixth appearance in a conference final. He has 45 goals and 81 assists in 165 career playoff games (165 playoff games ties him for 51st all-time with now-retired defenseman Brian Rafalski). If Chicago defeats the Kings in the series, it would mark Hossa's fifth time playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Blackhawks understand quite well Hossa's role in their emerging dynasty. Quenneville lavished praise on him that day after the regular season ended.
"He's huge," Quenneville said. "He plays on our team in every capacity. What he brings in terms of the quality of minutes that he plays, he plays the right way, enhances our special teams, 5-on-5 game. Just a great pro. Has experience and leadership. What he brings when he comes to the rink every day is a great learning message for our young guys, as well. We're happy to have him."
For a player who is as prolific of a scorer as Hossa, one of the most underappreciated parts of his game is his defensive side. Most often winners of the Selke Trophy, given to the NHL's top defensive forward, tend to be centers because they take faceoffs and often act as a third defenseman in the defensive zone.
Because he plays right wing, Hossa may be at a disadvantage. Former Dallas right wing Jere Lehtinen is one of the only five wings to win the award over the past two decades. Among Hossa's impressive list of career accomplishments are the seven shorthanded goals he scored in 2005-06 with Atlanta. He is a plus-211 in the regular season in his career (plus-27 playoffs).
"It's a good point there because a lot of the guys in the league, that seems like only the centers get mentioned a lot," Quenneville said of the Selke race, "and Hoss, two-way, (is) as good as any player in the league."
Like many athletes in any sport who excel at the finer points of their game of choice, Hossa got to be that way in part because his father was a coach. Frantisek Hossa is a former national team coach of Slovakia at the Olympic level.
Marian has referred to his father as an old-school taskmaster. He once told the story of being a 12-year-old junior and attempting a flashy move. His father, who was coaching the team, took him outside the locker room at intermission and gave him a tongue-lashing. The message stuck. As a result, Hossa is one of the most fundamental players in the NHL. There is little flash in his game.
"Everyone likes to glamorize things that are flashy, but flashy doesn't win games," former teammate Bobby Holik, one of the top two-way forwards of his era, once said of Hossa. "Penalty killing, back-checking, those things make you win…. Without the little things, you can't be a good team."
On the eve of the playoffs, Hossa voiced pleasure about his health. In 2012, he fell victim to an ugly and illegal hit to the head by Phoenix's Raffi Torres for which Torres was suspended 25 games. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the Blackhawks, losing Hossa after three games, were eliminated in six by Phoenix that year in the first round.
Feeling healthy and energetic from the outset of these playoffs, Hossa has shown it on the ice. Before the postseason started, he spoke of how chasing the Stanley Cup never gets old.
"Definitely," he said. "The preparation before the game. The atmosphere, the buzz in the city. Everything gets you going, definitely. It doesn't matter if you win one or two, it is still the motivation inside for the playoffs."