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Marian Hossa still among NHL’s best entering 1,000th game

Chicago Blackhawks right winger Marian Hosswaits for faceoff during 3-1 loss Nashville Predators Tuesday January 24 2012 United Center. |

Chicago Blackhawks right winger Marian Hossa waits for a faceoff during the 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators Tuesday January 24, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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TODAY

BLACKHAWKS AT RED WINGS

The facts: 11:30 a.m., Ch. 5, 720-AM.

Updated: April 4, 2013 6:55AM



Jonathan Toews was 9 years old when Marian Hossa made his NHL debut for the Ottawa Senators. Not surprisingly, the offensively gifted yet defensively responsible two-way star quickly became one of Toews’ favorite players. To Toews, Hossa was no Marty Havlat, but he was close.

So the first time Toews played against Hossa — Oct. 27, 2007, at the United Center against the Atlanta Thrashers — it was a big deal. And when Hossa walked into the Blackhawks’ dressing room as a teammate for the first time in 2009, that was a big deal to
Toews, too.

Heck, nearly four years later, it’s still sort of a big deal to Toews, who’s kind of a big deal himself these days.

‘‘To have a chance to play with him now and to win a Stanley Cup with him, to watch him score 400 goals and everything else in between, is pretty special,’’ Toews said. ‘‘As a young guy coming into the league, you’re always excited to play against some of your childhood heroes. And to share the locker room with a guy like Marian Hossa, whom I watched for many years before I ever became a pro, is a huge honor. It’s a special thing.’’

Hossa will play in his 1,000th game Sunday, when the Hawks visit the Detroit Red Wings. It’s the kind of milestone Hossa always figured was for old guys at the end of their careers. But at 34, Hossa remains one of the top two-way players in the NHL and still is going strong.

‘‘When I was younger, I looked at somebody with 1,000 games, and the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘That’s a great accomplishment, a long time in this top league,’ ’’ Hossa said. ‘‘Also, back then, I thought those guys were probably going to retire pretty soon. A thousand games, that’s so much. Now I’m coming to that point, but so far I feel pretty good. Hopefully I can play many more years.’’

Hossa, whose career was jeopardized last April by a vicious and illegal hit to the head from the Phoenix Coyotes’ Raffi Torres in the playoffs — a hit that left him with a severe concussion and a seven-month rehab — has returned at the top of his game, with nine goals and eight assists in 21 games. He has three game-winning goals during the Hawks’ incredible 18-0-3 start, including two in overtime.

And his team-first, defense-creates-offense example — particularly alongside the similarly styled Toews on the top line — continues to set the standard for how coach Joel Quenneville wants his team to play.

‘‘He does everything you’d want in a player as far as how he approaches and prepares himself, how he plays throughout the game,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘Zero maintenance from the coach’s perspective. . . . Offensively, defensively, positionally, he’s exactly how you want your team to play. He plays it to a ‘T.’ He reinforces that team aspect game in, game out. He’s exactly what you’d want in a top player.’’

Hossa still remembers his NHL debut with the Senators, a road tie against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 1, 1997.

‘‘Sellout [at the] Bell Centre,’’ he said. ‘‘Just an amazing feeling.’’

Of course, nothing compares with the feeling of hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head in a Hawks sweater in 2010. It was a particularly sweet moment for a veteran player who had lost in the Stanley Cup finals each of the previous two seasons, once with the Pittsburgh Penguins and once with the Red Wings.

And 1,000 games, 426 goals and 921 points into his career, Hossa’s not done chasing the next one. Not by a long shot.

‘‘Obviously, the biggest thing I accomplished is to win the Stanley Cup; that’s everybody’s dream in the league,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m one of the lucky ones because not everybody’s going to win this trophy. I’m glad I’ve done that, and hopefully I can repeat it at least one more time.’’



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