May 1, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Humble Hossa earns his Wings

Marian Hossa needed some prompting from his teammates to shoot the puck early in the season, but things have gone smoothly since. (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)

Detroit

He was quiet from the start, too quiet. Marian Hossa eased into the Red Wings' dressing room so deftly, it was easy to forget the screaming headlines when he made the shocking decision, disdaining millions to come to Detroit for a one-year contract.

None of that mattered in the early days of the season, when the Wings' hopes for Hossa were pretty simple. They just wanted him to shoot the dang puck.

"I don't know if he was trying to please his new teammates, but he was always making the extra pass," Nicklas Lidstrom said, chuckling. "We mentioned to him, 'You have a great shot -- take it.' Once he got over that hump, he was a perfect fit."

This is the story the rest of the NHL hates. This is the tale of how the defending Stanley Cup champs defied logistics and welcomed a superstar interloper, and then the oddest thing happened: It worked fine, no ego clashes, no problems. The New Guy was humble and hungry and didn't disrupt the winning chemistry.

As the Wings head into the second round tonight against Anaheim, Hossa is in the spot he always envisioned. He's needed and wanted but doesn't have to do it all, or even the bulk of it. No one on the Wings ever does. And really, of all the unusual reasons Hossa took the Wings' one-year, $7.45-million offer instead of long-term treasures elsewhere, this is the main one, for this time right now.

"Look around, you've got legends in here, and it's a great group of guys," Hossa said. "It's just fun to be a part of it. And they play the way I like, the puck-control game. Playing with so many stars, the pressure is spread, there's no focus on one guy."

Pressure? What pressure?

And there's the dichotomy of the Hossa Experiment. He came to Detroit to win his first Stanley Cup, and by accepting a one-year deal, he put enormous pressure on himself. But the truth is, it's actually less pressure than if he'd stayed in Pittsburgh for a reported $35 million, or gone to Edmonton for the rumored $80 million.

If Hossa is skating with a burden, he sure isn't showing it. He led the team with 40 goals in the regular season, and often was brilliant. He was clutch in the first-round clincher against Columbus, scoring his first two goals of the playoffs.

GM Ken Holland, relentlessly creative, hopes to keep Hossa with a long-term deal, after signing Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to lengthy contracts. It will be tricky under the salary cap, and negotiations are on hold during the playoffs, but I bet Holland and Hossa get it done before free-agency July 1.

"Hopefully, if everybody's happy and things work out, I can re-sign," Hossa said. "If not, life goes on. I knew what I was doing when I signed. I like the way everything is going so far. I have no regrets."

Said Holland: "We want him to stay and I think he'd like to stay, and I'm hopeful we can find a cap number that works. I don't think he's all about money, he's made that pretty clear, and that says something about him. He's humble, respectful, hard-working. He's not arrogant, he's not loud. He just wants to fit in."

Chemistry

It's amazing it has worked so well, because adding a star to an established championship team could be a recipe for discord. But Hossa quickly exhibited what the Wings crave -- star skills without the star trappings. They like him not because he sacrificed long-term security, but because he's likeable.

"He's a typical Red Wing already," goalie Chris Osgood said. "He's laid-back and he doesn't have that superstar mentality where he thinks he's better than other guys. We've always had Steve Yzerman and guys like that -- great players who never put themselves ahead of anybody. Hossa gets along with everybody, he talks to everybody."

Well, actually, he triesto talk to everybody. Linemate Datsyuk, who uses a clever mix of broken English and unbroken Russian, is known as the dressing-room quipster, whether the joke is understood or not.

Hossa knew if they were going to enjoy unspoken communication on the ice, it had to work off the ice.

"When he tells a joke, it takes me a couple seconds, then I just start laughing," Hossa said, laughing. "It did take me through training camp to figure out what kind of style they want from me. But with Pavel it's easy, because he just tries to find me and throw the puck to the open spot. That's basically our game, and so far it's been working."

Working well enough that Datsyuk is a finalist for the Hart Trophy, and the Hossa-Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom line is as dangerous as any.

Hossa is a solid 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, a terrific skater with a wicked shot. He's only 30, and after a few years of playoff underachievement in Ottawa and Atlanta, he has a chance to find his peak here.

But first, he had to find his shot, and then he had to find his seat. Uh, that would be the seat in the rear of the team plane, where the elders gather. It took a while for Hossa to join captain Lidstrom, Chris Chelios, Holmstrom and others back there. Lidstrom said Hossa finally took Dominik Hasek's old seat, and likes the fit.

"I really think he feels comfortable here," Lidstrom said. "Seeing him on an everyday basis now, I had no idea how quick he was. I knew he had that shot, but I didn't realize all the other stuff, especially how humble he is."

With the Wings, all egos are checked at the door, and all must check on the ice. No problem for Hossa, who gambled and brought his best shot to the team with the best shot, and now happily fires away.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com.

Red Wings vs. Ducks

Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5* Game 6* Game 7*
7 tonight, at Detroit; Vs., CBC2 p.m. Sunday, at Detroit, NBC10:30 p.m. Tuesday, at Anaheim, FSN, Vs.10:30 p.m. Thursday, at Anaheim, Vs.5 p.m. May 10, at Detroit, FSNMay 12, TBA, at Anaheim, FSN, Vs.May 14, TBA, at Detroit, FSN, Vs.

*If necessary; all games on 97.1

Red Wings vs. Ducks

Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4 Game 5* Game 6* Game 7*
7 tonight, At Detroit; Vs., CBC2 p.m. Sunday, At Detroit, NBC10:30 p.m. Tuesday, At Anaheim, FSN, Vs.10:30 p.m. Thursday, At Anaheim, Vs.5 p.m. May 10, At Detroit, FSNMay 12, TBA, At Anaheim, FSN, Vs.May 14, TBA, At Detroit, FSN, Vs.

*If necessary; all games on 97.1

Marian Hossa has fit in perfectly with the Red Wings' team ethos. ... (David Guralnick/The Detroit News)
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