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Marian Hossa’s silence is golden to Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks right winger Marian Hossduring game against EdmontUnited Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Chicago Blackhawks right winger Marian Hossa during a game against Edmonton at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 27, 2012 10:00AM

Marian Hossa’s favorite thing to do in Chicago is walk around. As big as the city is, it reminds him of being home in Trencin, Slovakia.

It’s the intimacy of the city, the endless activity and the comfort of being around people.

“In Chicago, [wife Jana and I] like to walk in the city and just explore,” Hossa said in an interview with the Sun-Times. “It reminds me of Europe because so many people walk.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is. You see on Michigan Avenue or around those streets, people like to walk. That’s awesome. I love that style.”

People don’t notice you?

“Every year,” Hossa said, “more and more.”

But Hossa would be fine if they didn’t.

Hossa, 33, might be the most unassuming sports star in Chicago. The Blackhawks winger with 408 career goals and growing Hall of Fame credentials is content seeing younger stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane be the franchise’s familiar faces.

“I like it quiet and peaceful,” Hossa said.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the best player on the ice in nearly every game. As television analyst Eddie Olczyk pointed out, Hossa quietly is putting together a Hart Trophy-worthy season. He will make his fifth All-Star appearance this weekend in Ottawa.

“I don’t think a lot of people really realize the year that he’s had statistically and obviously everything else he does that makes him great,” Olczyk said. “Hossa is a guy who does go under the radar for sure in this town. I don’t think there is any doubt nationally.”

A coach’s son

Hossa is from a famous hockey family in Slovakia. His father, Frantisek, coached the national team, and younger brother Marcel was an NHL first-round pick. Hossa was a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 1997.

“We were all about hockey,” Marcel said in a phone interview from Latvia, where he plays in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. “When we were growing up, all we did was talk about hockey, play hockey outside, play hockey on computer games and trade hockey cards.”

One time, Marcel dared to test his big brother.

“I got really mad at him and ripped one of his best hockey cards,” Marcel said. “He then got mad, and we started fighting.

“But he was just like how he is right now. He’s a pretty calm guy and doesn’t get upset a lot.”

In Slovakia, Hossa’s on-ice exploits at a young age were well-known. Everyone saw his potential.

“Everybody knew he was extremely talented,” said Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, a close friend of Hossa’s who also is from Trencin.

Hossa enjoys David Beckham-like status in Slovakia. Paparazzi trail him, and he shows up just as often in celebrity tabloids as he does in the sports pages. After every game at the United Center, European reporters surround him.

Hossa rarely declines interviews and ends each with a “Thank you.”

“It doesn’t bug me, but I don’t look for it,” Hossa said of the attention.

But with success, Hossa knows attention will follow. Getting him to talk about himself, though, is about as easy as mimicking his work on the ice.

“He’s a guy who doesn’t like to stand out,” Chara said, “who doesn’t like to fly high.”

Stories from tragedy

It has been more than two years since the Hawks signed Hossa to a 12-year, $62 million deal. Since then, he has scored plenty of goals — none bigger than his overtime winner in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators in their first-round series two years ago.

He reached three consecutive Stanley Cup finals with three teams, finally winning one with the Hawks in 2010.

But he also has drawn attention for reasons he would want to avoid.

The most recent and tragic was losing close friend and former NHL player Pavol Demitra in the plane crash that claimed the lives of 37 members of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, a Russian pro hockey team, in September.

The wounds are still real for Hossa, who wrote Demitra’s
No. 38 on his skates. He still can recall the moment he learned of the tragedy.

“I was doing some charity work in my hometown,” Hossa said. “I was talking with one newspaper guy, and he got a text message from some media that this happened.

“After we found out that it’s true, we tried to find out if my buddy was there on the plane because I heard he might not be playing because he had a bad groin and he wasn’t traveling with the team. I tried to reach him on his phone. Obviously, the phone call didn’t go through.

“It was such a bad, terrible time, and then two days later I was in the hospital and my first daughter [Mia] was born. Just in the two days, such a short period of time, something so tragic happened, and then all of a sudden it’s the best day of your life.”

There have been other tough moments in his career. In 2000, he inadvertently struck defenseman Bryan Berard in the eye with his stick, nearly ending Berard’s career. Hossa visited Berard, who almost had his eye removed, in the hospital and made a tearful apology.

In 2005, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers for forward Dany Heatley just after getting a new deal with the Senators. Heatley requested to be traded after being the driver in a car accident that killed teammate Dan Snyder.

Beloved by teammates

In the summer of 2009, the Hawks were a young team loaded with talent and swagger. What they needed was a veteran forward to show what it takes to be an elite player and an elite team.

Hossa was the answer.

“We just felt that if you bring a guy like that in who is an All-Star who scores lots of goals and is an offensive player but is really dedicated at both ends of the rink,” general manager Stan Bowman said, “not only is he going to help your team, but it’s also only going to demonstrate to players this is how you have to play in order to be an elite player. He serves as a good role model that way.”

Even now, with the Stanley Cup already won and Toews and Kane taking steps in their careers, Hawks players take notice of Hossa. Those who once played against him enjoy not having to contain him.

“He’s arguably one of the top three [toughest] all-around forwards to handle,” veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell said. “He’s got a blend you just don’t see in the league.”

Hossa also is a favorite topic among the Hawks.

Jimmy Hayes is awestruck that he’s one stall away from him in the locker room. Viktor Stalberg calls him a “goofy guy.” John Scott is astonished at the number of Kit-Kat bars Hossa devours on team charters.

But they also know his worth.

“He’s overlooked,” O’Donnell said. “If he wanted to, he could search out more attention and do things to draw more attention. Hossa seems to slide under the radar. If you look at some of his numbers, he shouldn’t.”

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