Blackhawks, fans give Hossa warm hello
CHICAGO – More than 100 children waved Blackhawks posters and chatted excitedly Thursday shortly before the team introduced free-agent acquisitions Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky at the United Center.
“You guys are looking good, I like it,” a woman told the children through a megaphone. “Rest those arms, though. We’re not on TV yet.”
Indeed, Hossa’s introduction to the Chicago news media proved to be a made-for-TV event complete with screaming young fans, a booming public-address announcer and plenty more airplay for the team’s unofficial anthem, written by The Fratellis.
The next question is whether Hossa and the Hawks will prove to be made for each other.
The Hawks sure hope so. They signed Hossa, 30, to a 12-year, $62.8 million deal to become the featured goal scorer on a team that already includes young stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.
The Hawks also signed Kopecky, 27, to a two-year deal worth $1.2 million a season.
Like Hossa, Kopecky is a native Slovakian who played last season for Detroit and knocked the Hawks out of the playoffs.
“We’re just two regular guys coming to Chicago to have fun and win hockey games,” Hossa said.
Fans’ expectations for Hossa will be far from regular. He has scored at least 40 goals in three seasons and played in two Stanley Cup Finals, falling short with Pittsburgh in 2007-08 and with Detroit in 2008-09.
“The expectations are high, and I understand that,” said Hossa, who will wear No. 81. “Obviously, they’re expecting goals from me.”
The Hawks expect Hossa to be an upgrade over forward Martin Havlat, who was not re-signed after scoring 29 goals last season. Kopecky will replace Samuel Pahlsson as a physical, defense-minded forward whose game is especially suited for the playoffs.
“We think with the addition of Marian and Tomas, they’re going to help put us over the edge,” said Stan Bowman, who was named general manager this week. “We like the way they complement our current players on the roster. We believe that we’re poised to make a run at the Stanley Cup.”
Hossa did not flinch as Bowman spoke about 3 feet away. Hossa passed on an opportunity to promise a Stanley Cup title for Chicago.
“We’re going to definitely try our best,” Hossa said. “That would be great to go to the Finals again, but it’s a long road. It’s going to be hard work, and we have to go step by step. I’m definitely looking forward to it. With this young team, with this talent, we’ve got a good chance.”
Hossa was equally cautious when asked whether he expected to fulfill his 12-year deal and play until age 42. Hossa’s front-loaded contract pays him $59.3 million in the first eight seasons and $3.5 million in the final four seasons.
“I would love to,” said Hossa, who joked that he had learned how to endure from 47-year-old former teammate Chris Chelios. “But it’s a hard game. You can get unlucky with injuries, and things can change rapidly. I’m hoping I can play as long as I can.”
Kopecky said Hossa’s even-keeled approach helped him to handle the pressure. The pair prevailed in its first Chicago pressure cooker – a nasty traffic jam from O’Hare International Airport to the United Center.
“I saw him last year in the playoffs, how he handled the pressure,” Kopecky said. “That’s something people don’t even imagine, what kind of pressure it was. He handled it unbelievably. He was so calm.”