Marian Hossa erases all doubt

LOS ANGELES -- This summer, Marian Hossa increased his off-ice training gradually to test his concussion recovery. Slowly, he added weight to his workouts and pushed the pace on the exercise bike. And slowly, the dizziness went away.

Recovery from the vicious postseason hit from Phoenix forward Raffi Torres that ended Hossa's season seemed to be progressing.

"I thought I was fine," Hossa told ESPN The Magazine on Friday. "As soon as I stepped on the ice and went hard, then it kind of hit me."

He wasn't fine.

All the things he normally did while playing hockey without thinking -- receiving passes or navigating around all the bodies on the ice -- triggered the return of concussion symptoms.

"I went to Chicago, a little bit after training camp was supposed to start, I spent the two weeks and didn't get better," he said.

It was a long process, but the lockout allowed him to keep at it without pressure. He continued his training off the ice. Continued testing the recovery on the ice. When things started feeling good in November, he asked teammates to start banging him into the boards and to battle with him for a puck in the corner.

"That's when my head started feeling like, OK, I can do this," he said. "I don't think about it."

Leading up to Saturday's game against the defending champion Kings, he said there wasn't any anxiousness. He'd tested his concussion recovery every way possible and was completely confident he was ready to go. If he wasn't, he wouldn't have been out there.

But those around him couldn't help but wonder. The memory of Hossa leaving the ice on a stretcher is one that's hard to erase. He looked great in practice all week, but until you get into a game situation and start taking hits from players who aren't sharing the same uniform, you never know.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was one of those people who wondered.

"It's his first game, you wonder how he's going to handle it," Quenneville said.

By the time the Blackhawks finished routing the Kings 5-2 in their season opener, that doubt was gone. Long gone. It was probably gone during the first period when Hossa's play on the 5-on-3 set up the Blackhawks' first goal of the season.

The 34-year-old forward finished with two goals and an assist. He was a plus-2 in 17:24 of ice time. He was the Blackhawks' best forward during most of the regular season last year and picked right back up this season.

His game plan was to keep it simple. Keep his shifts short and play the basic two-way game that has endeared him to every coach he has ever played for. Even when he's not producing offensively, he makes an impact, Quenneville noted after the win. One of Hossa's former coaches, the late Brad McCrimmon, once called him the best forward in the league from goal line to goal line.

There were plenty of reasons Chicago didn't advance beyond the first round last season in the playoffs. The goaltending could have been better. There were issues on special teams. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews wasn't quite himself after rushing back from a concussion.

But losing Hossa after he played just 3:08 in Game 3 against the Coyotes might have been the biggest blow of all.

On Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles, he contributed in all areas of the game, as he always does. He led the team in shots. He was a catalyst on the power play with that heavy shot that's a constant threat. He put in 1:32 of short-handed ice time on a Blackhawks penalty kill that looks significantly better this season. So far, anyways.

"He played a great game, he's a great player. He played great for us last year, great start of the season," Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane said. "It was tough for us to see him get hurt like that."

Hossa put in some long postseasons in his career as he advanced into his 30s, including trips to the Stanley Cup finals with the Penguins, Red Wings and Blackhawks. But the past two seasons, his season ended abruptly. In overtime against the Canucks on an Alex Burrows goal in 2011 and at the hands of Torres in 2012.

If the concussion symptoms stay away, Hossa is a player poised for a strong season and perhaps another long postseason. The physical condition Hossa is in right now, Quenneville said, is as good as it's been in a long time.

As for the mental concerns, he removed those after just a few shifts.

"He's had so much success in the league," Kane said. "You knew he was going to come back with a mission to prove himself again."