Blackhawks retire Marian Hossa’s No. 81 jersey during United Center ceremony

Surrounded by his family, all six other three-time Stanley Cup champions, 21,000-plus fans who’d arrived two hours early and even the Cup itself, Marian Hossa watched a banner rise to the United Center rafters Sunday that signified the official retirement of his No. 81 number within the Blackhawks.

“It is such an honor to be here tonight and to share this with all of you,” Hossa said during a 20-minute speech filled with heartfelt sentiment, a few jokes and many words of appreciation. “It is incredibly humbling to have my No. 81 forever hung here.”

Hossa’s banner hung on the east side of the arena — beneath the Hawks’ 2013 championship banner — after the ceremony and throughout the game, but it’ll presumably move over to the north side before the Hawks’ next home game Friday against the Canadiens. Considering Tony Esposito’s No. 35 was previously the highest number the Hawks had retired, some banner reorganization will be necessary.

But that certainly wasn’t on Hossa’s mind — or anyone else’s — on Sunday.

“Like all players, I dreamt of winning the Stanley Cup from the moment I was drafted,” he said. “After losing back-to-back Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh and Detroit, I was beginning to think, for a second, it was me. But I learned that you can come back from anything, no matter how bad it is. It’s all about your mindset.”

Eddie Olczyk made a surprise return as emcee and spoke to Hossa’s “lasting impact on the past and the future of the Blackhawks.” The Hawks also put together a lengthy, moving montage featuring Hossa’s most iconic moments from his 2009-to-2019 Chicago tenure.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews attended the ceremony wearing street clothes (beneath their jerseys) before scrambling to dress in full gear for pregame warmups. But like fellow attendees Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp, Hossa’s moment likely won’t be the only jersey retirement they attend in the near future.

Even Hossa acknowledged that reality.

“Something tells me, very soon, I’ll be flying back to Chicago to raise a few more of these jerseys,” he said to a roar.

Marian Hossa delivered a heartfelt 20-minute speech to a sellout crowd before the official banner-raising.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Richardson recalls

Current Hawks coach Luke Richardson faced Hossa 25 times as a player. He witnessed firsthand Hossa’s second career NHL game (in a 5-3 Flyers win over the Senators on Oct. 3, 1997) and a hat trick a few later (in a 5-2 Senators win over the Blue Jackets on Nov. 23, 2002).

Now as compatriots in the Hawks’ organization, Richardson and Hossa have gotten to know each other better; Hossa actually interrupted Richardson’s pregame press scrum Sunday to shake his hand and wish him good luck. But Richardson’s memories of trying to defend Hossa during the overlap of their playing careers are less pleasant.

“Down low, like on a power play, [when he was] walking the goal line to the net, you’re not stopping him,” Richardson recalled Friday. “As a lefty, if he was on his off-side as a right winger down low, if he had a half-step on you, he was pretty much getting to the net. At least we were allowed to cross-check back then, [but] it didn’t bother him.”

He had plenty of respect for him, though.

“He was big and physical and could take it and give it out, but he didn’t get into the verbal game and chirping,” he added. “Every team he went to, he made other people better.”

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