A packed schedule is set and special guests have been invited. The only thing Chicago Blackhawks great Marián Hossa doesn’t know is how he’ll react Sunday when his No. 81 is retired and lifted to the United Center rafters.
“I’m not sure but right now I feel great,” Hossa said. “I’m sure everything’s going to come down to that moment, but I’ll surprise myself.”
It starts with doors opening at 2:30 pm in the United Center Atrium and a pregame celebration. Hossa will reminisce with former teammates Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Niklas Hjalmarsson during a panel discussion at 3:50 pm
Hossa, who recently released a book, “Marián Hossa: My Journey from Trencín to the Hall of Fame,” will be honored in an on-ice ceremony at 4:30 before the puck drops against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 6 pm
“It’ll be fun to celebrate his amazing career here in Chicago and also see him and a bunch of our old teammates,” Patrick Kane said.
Added captain Jonathan Toews: “It definitely brings you back and you realize that time has flown by since he was a Blackhawk. But we can all imagine the reception he’s going to get from the fans, how much he meant to the fan base here in Chicago.”
Hossa, who was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, looks to enjoy the first coronation in what could be a parade of jersey retirements, Hall of Fame inductions and other ceremonies honoring players from the Hawks’ Stanley Cup dynasty (2010, ‘ 13 and ’15).
Keith, who retired in July, is an obvious candidate to join Hossa in the rafters and the Hall. Keith’s defensive partner, Seabrook, and goalie Corey Crawford (first-year eligible for the Hall next year) have been bandied about as Hall candidates.
Sharp and Hjalmarsson certainly could be on tap for jersey retirements, and for Cup icons Kane and Toews, it’s just a matter of how long they would like to extend their careers before they are inducted into the Hall.
“It’s pretty special,” Kane said. “(Hossa) obviously had an amazing career here and was probably one of the best free-agent signings in Chicago sports history. The way he played the game, the teammate he was, so definitely deserving of that honor.
“And they’re having the Hall of Fame the other day and talking about potential inductees for next year and you see Crawford and Seabrook up there. So it’s pretty cool. It’d be fun to see those guys get recognized.”
Hossa was asked how many former teammates’ jerseys might rest next to his.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “There are so many names that deserve to be up there. It’s not up to me, but I know I’ll be coming back for some others in the future. Just big names coming up, and I’ll leave it up to different people to decide.”
And there will be plenty of time to dive into that later. On Sunday, it’s about Hossa and what he meant to the Hawks and the game.
“I sat next to him in the locker room for maybe six or seven years, and great teammate,” Kane said. “A lot of good laughs with him. He always seemed to be very even keeled no matter what was going on.”
Hossa’s two-way game rubbed off on the entire locker room.
“He was really known as an amazing defensive player,” Kane said. “The way he backchecked and the way he could strip pucks from behind, it seemed like he was doing that a couple times a game.
“I remember watching him, he was so strong on the puck. No one could take the puck from him.”
As a former defenseman, Hawks coach Luke Richardson could attest to that.
“As a lefty, if he’s on his off side as a right winger down low, if he has a half-step on you, he’s pretty much getting to the net,” he said. “At least we were allowed to cross-check back then. It didn’t bother him.”
As an Ottawa native, Richardson watched the former Senators first-round draft pick’s career unfold over 19 seasons.
“When he was in Ottawa, he was a great forward and complimentary to different players there,” Richardson said. “Then he goes to Atlanta and he was great for (Ilya) Kovalchuk. He made him a better player because he’s a more responsible guy who could play with an excellent, explosive offensive guy.
“Same with Detroit, Pittsburgh, here. That’s why he was wanted. He wasn’t moved around because he wasn’t wanted, he was the guy that everybody wanted. When it was time to win, that was the guy they went and got.”
Now, Hawk’s leadership wants him again — but in a different capacity.
“We’ve been talking to him about what a role could look like,” president of business operations Jaime Faulkner told the Tribune last month. “He runs a number of businesses back home, he’s very successful, extremely smart, so he’s got an interest in helping on the business side as well as the hockey side.
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“So we’re working through what that could look like. And hopefully we can have him alongside us in the near term.”
Hossa said discussions with Faulkner and CEO Danny Wirtz are ongoing.
“I took a break from hockey for a long time, had my own business running in Slovakia and I’m pretty busy with that,” he said. “But I’m going to be connected with this team. I want to be connected with the city where we had success, the best years, and definitely would like to be a small part of the Blackhawks organization.
“It’s been a long time but (I’ll) try to make sure I make the right decision on what part I take.”
Hossa has been watching the Hawks this season with a critical eye, noting the culture they’re trying to build. He was at the United Center on Monday, checking out the team and the new coaching staff on the night the Hawks lost 3-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Maybe they don’t have as much talent as we did in our prime times,” Hossa said. “But as long as they’re working hard, people see it and that’s what is important.
“When I look up at those jerseys hanging there, (it) just hit me that game. It’s just an amazing feeling. In a few days, my 81 will be there.”