Chara and Hossa share Slovak connection
June, 11, 2013
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com
CHICAGO -- There is a significant intertwining of storylines from Slovakia and the Czech Republic on both sides of the Stanley Cup finals divide.
There is the reverence shown the Boston Bruins' Jaromir Jagr, the Czech winger who is in his first finals since 1992.
But perhaps most interesting is the relationship between Boston captain Zdeno Chara and talented Chicago Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa.
The two Slovaks essentially grew up together, played together as young men and now are neighbors living across the street from each other in their shared hometown of Trencin.
"Yeah, we know each other for many years, from back home," Chara said Tuesday. "Obviously we cannot ignore that we know each other, we know the families. But we all know that right now our jobs are [to] play for our teams and compete and do whatever it takes to win games.
"We're pretty good friends. We live really close to each other, knowing each other from very young age."
He acknowledged it was a big deal at home when Hossa won a Stanley Cup in 2010 in his third trip to the finals with three different teams.
"In a way it's an accomplishment to be in the finals," said Chara, whose Bruins won a championship the year after Hossa's Hawks. "We were obviously very happy for him when it happened for him for the third time. I've been saying that for many years: He's one of the best players in the league."
Hossa said he is looking forward to the next couple of weeks, even if the dynamic with his longtime friend will be much different.
"It's going to be really interesting," Hossa said. "Obviously we are good friends. He's my neighbor. He lives right across the street.
"But this coming up two weeks, that has to go on the side and we just have to play the roles. I'm going to play my game, he's going to play his game. I'm sure right after, we'll be friends again. It's going to be [a] hard two weeks, hard battle. It's going to be also fun and I'm really looking forward to it."
If Chara considers Hossa one of the most dangerous forwards in the game, Hossa appreciates a different kind of danger that Chara represents.
"He's the biggest guy on the ice," Hossa said. "His stick is so big. If you don't move your feet, he's going to hurt you, he's going to come close to you and pin you on the board. You have to make sure you're moving your feet, stop and start.
"It's not easy. But if it's possible, it's better to play on the other side [of the ice]."
Hossa admitted he tries to get Chara to lighten up a bit when their paths do cross in the NHL.
"I try to joke with him, because he likes to be serious all the time on the ice," Hossa said. "I know he doesn't like to talk on the ice. I try to throw some funny stories on the faceoff, make him laugh a little bit."
Both teams enter the final series relatively healthy. Of course, the one injury that alters the Bruins’ lineup is the loss of Gregory Campbell, who sustained a broken fibula in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. He was replaced by big Kaspars Daugavins, who was picked up by the Bruins earlier in the year when the Ottawa Senators put him on waivers.
The 25-year-old native of Riga, Latvia, has played in two playoff games, the first in the first round and the second in Game 4 of the conference finals. He knows he must take nothing for granted in the Stanley Cup finals, as there are other players like him waiting and working hard in case they are called upon.
"Obviously, we’re ready all the time," Daugavins said. "We practice hard after guys left the ice, just to keep ourselves ready for situations like it happened. And you want to go in there and you want to be at your prime, playing your best hockey. Because if you do, you get another chance to play one more game.
"If you don’t, somebody else will take your job and do it, and obviously you want to be on ice instead of in press box. It’s what you do, and I enjoy being out there and have a lot of fun playing."
Not only did Daugavins come into the Bruins' lineup, he instantly found himself playing on a third line with Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin.
He has received loads of support from back home, especially from family.
"Obviously my family is [my] closest supporters," he said. "Even when I wasn’t playing, they said just hang in there your chance will come; if it does, you’d better be ready. Same stuff as probably every parent would say."
The 6-foot, 213-pound winger closed out his junior career playing in Mississauga, Ontario. His junior billet family might make it to Chicago for Game 2, and his father is planning to fly into Boston for Games 3 and 4.
"I have to make sure I play good, then he’ll get to see me in Games 3 and 4," Daugavins said.
Veteran Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival had an interesting take on the relationship in the team’s anchor defensive pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
He said Keith, a former Norris Trophy winner and Canadian Olympian, and Seabrook, also a member of Canada’s gold-medal team in Vancouver in 2010, aren’t afraid to share their feelings -- both positive and negative -- with each other during games.
"I guess that’s the chemistry they developed over the years playing together," Rozsival said. "Even though they sometimes have this kind of love/hate relationship, seems like. I think that’s what makes them good is [that] they push each other. They’re not afraid to tell each other whether it’s right or wrong on the bench. That’s what makes them great.
"I mean, they let each other know whether they’re doing good job or not."
It’s something the other Blackhawks pick up on and feed off of, Rozsival said.
"That’s just the way they are, I think," he said. "That’s the way they kind of push each other, and if they don’t like anything that is happening they let each other know.
"As the players, we love it and you like to see [it], because it’s just saying that they care."