Marian Hossa Has Aged Like the Finest of Wines

An Age Old Debate

For years now, we have watched Marian Hossa skate alongside Jonathan Toews.  Many others have come and gone, but Hossa has never fallen off the top-line for any extended period of time, that wasn’t necessitated by an injury.  Speculation swirls around him every year just as the season is about to start. Will he be able to keep playing at the same level? Is it time for him to drop down to another line? Has time finally caught up with Big Hoss?

And each year, the answer is the same for all of them. Sure, the years and mileage are starting to show some wear on the elder skatesman of the Blackhawks; However, the one thing that has made Hossa such a force, is that for every year that he has played, he has continually adapted his game.

No, he is not the scoring threat he once was. Today, he is more apt to poke in a goal at the crease, than snipe one from a good distance away under heavy coverage; He is still all over the net swiping at the loose change goalies are weary of leaving behind in his presence.  When he is in a scoring drought, he still manages to create scoring opportunities for his line mates, and generally wreaks havoc whenever he is in the vicinity of the puck. Whether it is on his blade, or not.

For the Blackhawks, Hossa is a far greater asset as a two-way player than he has ever been as a scoring weapon.  Of course, they love to see his name on the score sheet, but there are always a laundry list of players who can put up the flashy numbers. Hossa’s game is more subtle, but equally important.

Even in the midst of his most recent scoring drought, Hossa has recorded the second most shots on goal, behind Patrick Kane. For Hossa, it has always been about doing what he knows, eventually a lucky bounce will go his way, and suddenly his drought turns to a blaze. In fact, last season Hossa had only three goals in his first 26 games of the season. As quickly as the concern over Hossa’s age, or his contract started to mount, Hossa caught fire and kicked off a streak that helped him to finish the season with 22 goals. You better believe no one was talking about age or contract at the end of the year, as they had been at the beginning.  Hossa sure wasn’t. Instead he was raising his third Stanley Cup.

A Master of His Craft

Hossa is a master craftsman when it comes to the game of hockey, he does all the little things well.  The intangibles, as Joel Quenneville likes to refer to them.  He is an exceptional leader and mentor to young, and experienced players alike. He works hard from one end of the ice surface to the other, and he plays the puck as if he has it on radar lock.  Any opponent banking on Hossa losing a step, will be quick to find out how well Hossa can pick their pocket, how quick he is on the trigger in an open lane, and just how fast he is on the breakaway once that puck is heading in the other direction.

Before Wednesday’s game in Edmonton, Hossa had managed only one goal in his first 14 games.  He had thrown 42 shots on net, and come away with just that one. He was as many might call it, snake bitten.  He wasn’t taking bad shots.  They had enough velocity.  They just simply would not go in.

That all changed when the Blackhawks took home ice against the Calgary Flames last Sunday.

The puck had floated back to Duncan Keith on the left side near the blue line, and Hossa found himself in the center of the ice with an open lane.  Keith slipped the puck across to a waiting Hossa, who one-timed it glove side on Karri Ramo, for a goal that finally broke his drought. It was his 149th career goal in a Blackhawks sweater, and Hossa was not going to wait long for the 150th.

“I was obviously getting great opportunities, but not putting my name on the board,” Hossa said. “I felt good, though. When that’s happening, you just have to keep working hard. When you get good chances like that, good things will happen.” ~via Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times

The Boss

Even more impressive is Hossa’s ability to read a pass, like he did on Wednesday against the Edmonton Oilers in the 3-on-3 overtime period.

Artem Anisimov was heading to the bench with Artemi Panarin and Brent Seabrook still stuck in their own zone.  Hossa had barely set his blade on the ice, when Seabrook sauced a 120 foot pass right to him.  For some players, that puck would have caromed off the stick without the type of anticipation that Hossa possesses, but Hossa read that pass before he’d even left the bench.  Even before it had landed on Seabrook’s stick. Hossa had read it as Anisimov was heading towards the bench, two passes ahead of the play because that is what Hossa does best.

Hossa saw Anisimov coming for the change, and he knew if he could get on the ice fast enough, that he would be on the break, with no one in striking distance.  Were it any other player (apart from Kane, or Toews), Seabrook might have gone for a safer pass.  Perhaps he would have held on for the carry, but as soon as he saw Hossa, there was no need for a plan B.

The pass landed right into the curve of his stick blade, and Hossa was off to the races; Anders Nilsson never had a chance. The Oilers fell in overtime, and the Hawks collected their first two points of the circus trip.

For the History Books

For the record, Hossa collected his 150th goal as a Blackhawk in Edmonton on Wednesday, and he is eager to grasp onto the next milestone within reach. His 500th career goal.  Hossa is just 11 goals shy of the mark, and he will almost certainly reach it at some point this season, if he has any say in the matter.

For Marian Hossa, his best days as a scoring threat may be behind him, but his value with the Blackhawks has never been in doubt.  There are few players his age in the league today that can skate as well, or as quickly, and possess the hockey IQ that Hossa does. The most important parts of Hossa’s game can not always be measured on the stat sheets, or be defined by mere percentages.

Perhaps, only Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla are in the same class.  They are the elder skatesmen who helped pave the way for the players who came after them, and they are now helping to mold them as the two-way skilled forwards that they have always been. Each of them has had their own path, but they all converge at leadership. It is part of what makes each of them so special, and has helped them find a place in every locker room they have been a part of.

Hopefully, for Hossa the day is still a ways off, but the Blackhawks and the game of hockey will never be quite the same when he decides to hang up his skates. They simply don’t make them like Hossa (or Jagr and Iginla) anymore.

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