Blackhawks retire Hossa's No. 81 jersey during thrilling United Center ceremony

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Marian Hossa waves during a Blackhawks ceremony to retire his jersey at the United Center.

    Marian Hossa waves during a Blackhawks ceremony to retire his jersey at the United Center. Associated Press

  • Marian Hossa, left, and his family pose for photos as the Blackhawks raise a banner with his number during a ceremony to retire his jersey at the United Center.

    Marian Hossa, left, and his family pose for photos as the Blackhawks raise a banner with his number during a ceremony to retire his jersey at the United Center. Associated Press

 
By Kyle Leverone
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 11/20/2022 7:47 PM

Sunday night was about more than a hockey game.

A black carpet made up the center faceoff circle at the United Center, and long walkways were appended to the center stage.

 

A giant white 81 structure was lit up with a buzzing neon red outline, and opaque white banners that produced images of the player who wore that number for nine years with the Blackhawks fell from the rafters.

"Hossa! Hossa! Hossa!" the crowd chanted as the legendary Slovak right winger cruised up the black matting.

The Hawks were set to face the Penguins after the ceremony, but Sunday night was about honoring the first of what will likely be several more core players from the Blackhawks teams that won three Stanley Cups in six years.

It was about bringing the family together again, with former members of those teams in attendance.

It was about honoring the first and last player to don the number 81 for one of the oldest franchises in the NHL, Marian Hossa.

The numbers 1, 3, 9, 18, 21, 33 are the only Blackhawks numbers that look down from their perches in the United Center, belonging to Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote, Keith Magnuson (who also wore No. 3), Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito, respectively.

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The team raised their eighth player's number to join the other legendary names on Sunday.

Former Hawks broadcaster Eddie Olczyk played emcee and he introduced the other esteemed members of the night. With every name he spoke, the crowd erupted into an applause and ovation rarely seen this season.

A scraggly Duncan Keith, a chipper Niklas Hjalmarsson, a broad Brent Seabrook, a sharp Patrick Sharp, a smiling Patrick Kane, and a temperate Jonathan Toews sat in a semicircle and listened as Olczyk celebrated Hossa.

"Who is the boss?" Olczyk said. "Hoss is the boss!"

Hossa signed with the Blackhawks on July 1, 2009 for 12 years worth $62.8 million, and in the end, he was worth every penny.

"Yeah, it's pretty special," Kane said Wednesday morning. "He 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."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Across the entirety of his career, Hossa played 1,309 games, scored 525 goals and 609 assists for a total of 1,134 points. Five hundred and thirty four of those games, 186 of those goals, 229 of those assists, and 415 of those points came with the team in Chicago.

Hossa played 19 years in the NHL with the Senators, Atlanta Thrashers, Penguins, and the Red Wings.

In his acknowledgment of his time spent with the other clubs, the home crowd wasn't afraid to let him know what they thought about the latter.

After a smidgen of boos, the crowd chanted, "Detroit (stinks)! Detroit (stinks!)

When the pleasantries were done, and Hossa had given thanks to just about everyone in the building, fans, and teammates alike, he walked with his wife, his mother and father, and his three daughters to the site of the banner, hidden in an electronic container that displayed the words "Only One 81."

Facing the east-side of the arena, they watched as the pristine white pennant rose. The black 81 emerged first and then his name, arched around that iconic logo, followed by the years with which he was a Blackhawk, 2009-2018.

The banner rose and rose.

Eventually, it rested comfortably underneath the 2013 Stanley Cup banner. He recorded 7 goals and 9 assists in that year's playoff run when they defeated the Bruins in the Finals.

"It is incredibly humbling to have my No. 81 forever hung here," Hossa said.

It was a special group of people sitting together at center ice Sunday night. The will likely not be the last time Hossa sits at center ice for a jersey retirement.

"Something tells me, I'll be flying back to Chicago to raise a few more of these jerseys," he said.

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