Hossa's game: Fire and finesse
Thrashers star leads NHL in goals, scoring
By JOHN MANASSO
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 11/08/06
Frantisek Hossa had seen enough.
A player turned coach in Czechoslovakia's top professional hockey league, he was infuriated by a flashy move by his 12-year-old son Marian in a junior game.
So father went to the locker room during intermission and pulled his son out for a tongue-lashing.
"He closed the door and asked me what the [heck] am I doing," Thrashers forward Marian Hossa recalled of the game in his home city of Trencin, Slovakia — the event still leaving an impression 15 years later. "You just have to laugh. Sometimes, kids need it. He was old school."
Entering Wednesday's game against the Ottawa Senators, the team that drafted him and where he played seven seasons before being traded in the Dany Heatley deal, Hossa is off to a hot start, leading the NHL in points (24) and goals (13).
But to reduce his skills to that one-dimensional facet would miss the point. Those who know Hossa best see him is a complete player.
"Yeah, in this society or in sports, most of the time, let's face it, he's a tremendously creative offensive player and that overshadows his other play," teammate Bobby Holik said. "Everyone likes to glamorize things that are flashy, but flashy doesn't win games. Penalty killing, back-checking, those things make you win. ... Without the little things, you can't be a good team."
So while Hossa can bring fans to their feet, as he did with his rousing goal in Monday's win over Boston, the finer points of his game can go unnoticed. It might be covering the point for a defenseman who pinches into the offensive zone, or making the safe, smart clearing play to avoid a turnover. He is the quintessential coach's son — he knows hockey and rarely makes a mistake. They are all reasons he is a leading candidate at this juncture for the NHL's Hart Trophy, as the league's MVP.
It seems the lessons of his father, who also coached Hossa as head of the Slovakia Olympic team this year, have paid off. Said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, "He always makes the right play."
What is evident to all is Hossa's incredible speed and stick-handling ability.
"He has to be the strongest player in this league on the puck," Hartley said. "You can't take it away from him."
Hossa was stunned when Ottawa traded him to Atlanta in August 2005 for Heatley, who has eight goals after going scoreless in his first five while his team is mired in 13th place in the East. After a negotiating impasse, the Senators signed Hossa to a three-year, $18-million deal, but never revealed their intent to trade him.
"It was kind of a shock," Hossa said. "I was disappointed with how they handled it after all of those years. I was kind of disappointed because I was looking forward to the new deal. ... They could've told me, 'This is what we think. This is what we're going to do with you.' "
At least one of Hossa's former teammates thinks the trade was a mistake. Zdeno Chara, one of the league's top defensemen who left Ottawa via free agency for Boston, is a fellow Slovak and one of Hossa's closest friends.
"When you have a diamond in your hand, you shouldn't get rid of it," Chara said. "He's that kind of player. I wouldn't get rid of it —ever — if I was a GM."
Hossa said he thinks he was born with his stick-handling skills, but a little hard work did not hurt either. Looking down from the two-bedroom apartment in which he grew up in Trencin, a city of about 80,000, was a ball hockey court. Each day after school, he would come home and practice with his friends.
The speed came later. In his teens, as he came near to being draft eligible, he thought it was an element he needed to work on. So he became relentless in the weight room — he remains one of the Thrashers' most fit players — and said he would do squats with four 45-pound weights on each side.
Having had knee surgery, he has backed off the weights, but the speed remains.
"I do a little less," he said. "When I was younger, I did crazy things."
Linemate Slava Kozlov has been paired with Hossa for most of the last two seasons to terrific success.
"With Hoss's speed, he can cheat and he does not have to worry," Kozlov said. "He can still take care of our zone, too. With speed like his, he can still cheat a little bit and get a breakaway."
Proof of Kozlov's statement lies in the stats. Last season Hossa finished with 39 goals, second only to Ilya Kovalchuk's 52, and was a team record plus-17. Kovalchuk was minus-6. So while Hossa scored 13 fewer goals than Kovalchuk, he was on the ice at even strength for 23 more than were scored against him. Plus/minus also includes short-handed goals for and against and Hossa's seven led the NHL, many generated by his speed on breakaways.
For such a well-rounded player, individual honors are nice, but the team comes first.
"It's nice to get recognized," Hossa said about the possibility of winning the Hart Trophy. "It's a bonus. Let's put it this way, I won best player in Slovakia. And it's kind of a nice honor, among those players. But it doesn't give you some winning feeling. It's like when the team wins something. It's not like when I won the championship in Slovakia when I was 17 or when I won the Memorial Cup [Canada's top junior prize]. That kind of feeling I haven't had for a while and I would rather trade it for something to win as a team."
That's why he's my favourite player, because he's a complete player. I love him calling his dad "old school", muahaha. I also like Chara's snarky comments about Sens management, heh heh. The idea of him winning the Hart makes me sniffly.
I'm listening to the Ottawa radio feed of the Sens/Thrashers game right now and they said, "In a rare move, Ilya Kovalchuk backchecking..." and then credited Marian partially for it, for being such a complete player and setting a good example, haha. :P