After 19 seasons in NHL, Slovak forward Marian Hossa recently announced the end of his playing career due to a skin disorder. He was known as an extraordinary two-way forward in the league, but there was something more about him that made him special. It was his personality.
“Modesty. It should be the ornament of young people. And Marian had it,” said Hossa's youth coach Pavol Bratranec. “Marian was a very good boy. He would prefer to give away everything. He never raised himself above anyone. And it was his father´s Frantisek work. He led him to that attitude.”
Once Marian Hossa came to Trencin's youth hockey school for the first time, Bratranec saw big talent in him immediately. “God gave it to him. Everything he tried he was good at,” said Bratranec, who coached Zdeno Chara and Marian Gaborik too.
And he was right. When Marian Hossa graduated in high school, he swept through the youth system and immediately made the roster of Dukla Trencin’s senior team where he was instantly one of the main pillars of the team. He finished the regular season with 54 points and in the playoffs he added 10 more. And he was still just 18 years old.
After that his career moved on fast. He was drafted by Ottawa Senators in the first round (12th overall). The Senators gave him the chance to play in seven NHL games, but most of his first year in North America he spent in Portland, where he won the Memorial Cup.
“He adapted in Portland really fast. We won the Memorial Cup and now he is one the big stars in NHL,” said Julius Supler, who was his coach in Portland. “It's unbelievable what he achieved. He sent a great message about Slovakia and Slovak hockey,” Supler said two years ago.
And he was right. Marian Hossa appeared in 1309 NHL regular-season games with 1134 points as well as in 205 playoff games (149 points). He represented Slovakia in seven World Championships, four Olympic Games and he twice starred in the World Cup of Hockey.
“He was one of the best Slovak players, if not the best,” said Lubomir Visnovsky. “He was always working hard and. He never talked too much. Everything he achieved was only because of his mindset.”
Jan Filc has the same opinion. He was the coach who led him in the Slovak national team twice, once in the 2001 World Championship and later at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver 2010 where Slovakia lost the bronze medal to Finland.
“He was a combination of talent, skill and personality. He was a very valuable player in the NHL during his generation as well as within the national team. He was a real representative of the highest quality that Slovakia has provided to the world of hockey. With his performance on the ice and the dressing room he had a clear idea where he was going and what he wanted to achieve. He let everyone know that,” said Filc.
And thanks to his hard work he became one of the biggest stars in NHL. Alexei Yashin, who was a rising star in NHL when Hossa came first time to the league, noticed that too.
“He was drafted very high. I knew he would be very good player. Everyone saw his talent right away and later he was one of the best players in the league. I am glad he had a great career. It's unbelievable what he achieved while he played in different teams,” Yashin, who played with him in Ottawa for four seasons, told IIHF.com.
And that was the truth. In the beginning of Hossa's career, the Slovak forward notched 296 points in his first four NHL seasons. After that he had four seasons with at least 80 points a year. In his best season, in 2006/2007 with Atlanta, he had exactly 100 points in 82 regular-season games.
“While we played together in Ottawa and Atlanta, at that time he already proved the coaches could trust him in every situation,” said Peter Bondra. “Plus, he was a great guy, tremendous teammate and very popular in the dressing room.”
But Marian Hossa’s career hasn't been always about success. Probably his worst year in NHL came in the 1999/00 season. It was 11th March and Ottawa was battling with Toronto for playoffs spot.
The teams were in a four-on-four situation, with the Senators pressuring in the offensive zone. Then Marian Hossa attempted to shoot a loose puck but missed. Out of control, his stick violently struck Berard in the right eye.
Hossa's stick ruptured Beard's eyeball. He knew immediately it wasn't good. After he was helped to the visitor's locker room, doctors, trainers and the Maple Leafs' healthy scratches were all there staring at Berard.
"I just felt terrible," Hossa said at that time after he went to visit Berard in hospital. "This is going to bother me for a long time. I can't stop thinking about it. I can't get it out of my head. I just want him to be okay. I hope that he can get his vision back in his eye."
After that moment, Hossa struggled for the rest of that 1999/00 season. At the time of the incident, Hossa was 21 years old; he led the team with 27 goals and had registered 16 points (including 10 goals) in the previous 16 games.
Despite numerous setbacks and more surgeries, Berard missed only one season, but he never had the vision on his eye like before. But Berard forgave him.
“It was an accident. It's part of the sport. At that time, a lot of players didn't wear shields. But I would've liked to have seen where my career could have gone being healthy with two eyes," Berard said, who finished his career playing 639 NHL games with 333 points.
It took a while until Marian Hossa came back to his position of comfort. Over the next years he proved his best and while in Atlanta he started dreaming about Stanley Cup. In 2008 he was traded to Pittsburgh, but the Penguins lost the final series against Detroit.
Next year he tried it in Detroit and in the final they met his old team Pittsburgh. The Penguins won and Hossa was without the Cup again. There were stories about the Hossa curse.
“It's so frustrating. All the road, all the hard games. No matter how strong you are, it hurts you. It is very difficult to get through it. But that's sport. It's hockey. Someone wins, someone loses. You always want to be on the winning side. Not only you but your whole team,” Hossa said in 2014. But after that he signed a 12-year, $62.8 million deal with Chicago and everything went great. His dream came true and Hossa won the Stanley Cup not just once but three times (2010, 2013, 2015).
His career looked great but two years ago he started talking about the medical problems due to a progressive skin disorder and the side effects of the medication used to treat it.
"Before the last season, the NHL sent me to a clinic in Minneapolis to see a specialist who confirmed that it's impossible to play hockey when using those (anti-allergic) medicaments," he said. "I have to be aware of what might happen and I don't want to get back to the state I had been in during the previous seasons,” he told Slovak newspaper Novy Cas.
Now it's clear that Marian Hossa will never play in the NHL again. “It's one big tragedy for me,” said his youth coach Bratranec. “I knew about it, but I am sure if Marian would be ok, he could play in the NHL until his 50. And definitely he would become an assistant coach in Chicago.”
This could happen, but only after three years. That's the period, when Hossa's contract – in the meantime traded to Arizona for cap space reasons – expires. "I have already talked to the boss of the club, so it's true that after three years I will work in the Chicago organization."