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Hossa wants to hoist the Cup again


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by: COURTESY OF CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - Marian Hossa, former Portland Winterhawks star, hoists the Stanley Cup after the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 NHL finals.It has been nearly 15 years since Marian Hossa was the No. 1 act on the Winterhawks team that claimed the Memorial Cup at Spokane.

Hossa was the elite star for the Portland crew that beat the Guelph Storm 4-3 in overtime in the 1998 title game to claim supremacy of North American junior hockey.

It’s no surprise to those who watched him play in his lone Western Hockey League season that the Slovakian winger has reigned as one of the best forwards in the game through a sterling NHL career.

“Everybody knew how good he was,” says Brent Peterson, head coach on that Winterhawks team who moved on to a long career as an assistant coach with Nashville and is now a hockey operations adviser for the NHL Predators.

Hossa is a mainstay for the Chicago Blackhawks, who earned a piece of history by beginning the 2012-13 season with a 24-game unbeaten streak. After back-to-back victories over Peterson’s Predators and a Tuesday victory at Minnesota, Chicago has the league’s best record at 30-5-4.

Hossa’s 14th goal of the season beat Minnesota 1-0 Tuesday night.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” says Hossa, 34, a five-time All-Star who became the first player in history to play in consecutive Stanley Cup finals with three teams — Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago.

Hossa’s Blackhawks won the 2010 Cup, and they’ll be the favorites to do it again this spring.

“I feel really confident with this team,” says the 6-1, 210-pound Hossa, “We hope we can go all the way. But it’s a great challenge. We know how tough it’s going to be.”

The Blackhawks were in the center of the hockey universe for more than a month with their unprecedented beginning to this work stoppage-shortened NHL campaign. They were 21-0-3 before a 6-2 loss at Colorado on March 8.

“We wanted to start the season strong, but 24 straight without a loss ... nobody was expecting that,” Hossa says. “And we’re still playing great hockey right now.”

Hossa also has 10 assists in 31 games, having recently returned to duty after missing six games with a shoulder injury. He has five game-winning goals, and on Feb. 2 against Calgary he found the net with 2.3 seconds left in regulation to force overtime in a game the Hawks won in a shootout.

In more than 1,000 career NHL regular-season games, Hossa has scored 431 goals and has 928 points. Soon he will join the 1,000-point club that has 79 players to date.

“Marian is still one of the best forwards in the league,” Peterson says. “In the NHL, you have to do things at a higher speed, in smaller spaces, in less time. He does everything so well.”

Hossa was perhaps the most dynamic player in the WHL during the 1997-98 season, scoring 45 goals with 40 assists in 53 regular-season games, then adding 13 goals and six assists in 16 WHL playoff contests during the Hawks’ unforgettable ride to the top.

As an 18-year-old, Hossa was sent to Portland after playing the maximum seven early-season games with the NHL Ottawa Senators.

“We got very fortunate,” Peterson recalls. “He could have made Ottawa easily, but they had a pretty good team and decided he needed to go down and play with his own age group.”

Hossa joined a Portland team with such standouts as Brenden Morrow, Todd Robinson and Andrew Ference.

“He was the missing piece for us,” Peterson says. “He was so strong and talented. We had him only the one year, but it was a perfect year for us.”

Hossa recalls the title season with fondness.

“What a great year,” he says. “My roommate was Brenden. Our billets were great, and Portland was a good city to play in. That team had great chemistry on and off the ice. To finish it by winning the Memorial Cup ... what memories.”

Hossa has mixed emotions when he recalls the title game against Guelph. With less than five minutes remaining in a tense struggle, he went down with a torn ACL knee injury.

“Those things,” he says, “you never forget.”

Hossa came back to play 60 games with Ottawa the next season, scoring 15 goals.

“The Senators told me he worked as hard to rehab as anybody they’d ever seen,” Peterson says. “Normally, it’s a one-year process. He was back playing in October.”

Does Hossa keep tabs on his old junior team?

“To tell you the truth, no,” he says with a chuckle. “But when I email with my old billets, they give me updates, so I know they have a really strong team again. That would be awesome, so many years after our Memorial Cup, if they have another team from Portland win it again.”

Hossa says this year’s Blackhawks remind him in some ways of the 2010 Stanley Cup championship club.

“We had four strong lines,” he says, “and this year, we are similar, with a lot of different players. We play short shifts with four lines. Nobody stays out there too long, so we maintain great energy.

“We have a strong, confident defense, too, and our goalies are playing unbelievable right now.”

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