Forward Marian Hossa appeared in Chicago Blackhawks training camp for the first time Wednesday but with a heavy heart. Hossa was excused from the first few days of practice while attending a memorial and funeral for good friend and former NHL player Pavol Demitra.
Demitra and 42 others on the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslav hockey team died in a plane crash in Russia on Sept. 7. Two days after the crash, Hossa's wife gave birth to their first child, a daughter.
"It was a tough week, the tragic accident that happened," Hossa said after his first practice Wednesday. "It was terrible. I lost a couple of people that I knew very well and one very close one. And after a couple of days my daughter was born so from death to birth, it was upside down."
Hossa took time to make sure his wife and daughter were ready for him to leave Slovakia, all while mourning the loss of Demitra.
"It was a really tough time but in the end it was the best day of my life so I took a couple of days," he explained. "I talked to [general manager] Stan [Bowman] and he gave me a couple of extra days to figure out all the stuff at home."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville praised Hossa for his demeanor despite the circumstances surrounding his late arrival.
"It's tough," Quenneville said. "It's his neighbor, his buddy, his best friend. There is a lot going on there. It's a trying time for him. I commend him on how he's handled it. I think his approach and attitude was excellent today and I think he's in the right place."
Last fall Hossa was the best player in training camp despite having played in three consecutive Stanley Cup finals, but his play tailed off due to injuries and fatigue. The longer summer of rest did him a world of good.
"All summer was great," Hossa said. "I gave myself time to relax and had a long time to prepare in the gym, working out. Biking, running, and in the end preparing on the ice, until the last week, that was really rough. But I feel really good. I'll need two or three days to keep up with the guys because they are skating at full speed."
Hossa's Blackhawks teammates were happy to see him.
"It's nice to have him back," Patrick Kane said. "I know he had a busy couple weeks. You understand why he's here a couple days later. It's good to have him back. He looked great in his first practice."
"Boy, do you ever notice him on the ice," he said. "Practice picks up the pace. He looked in midseason form. He didn't miss a beat."
Hossa said it's an "awesome" feeling to be a dad though he got only a few days at home with his daughter, Mia. He hopes she and his wife will join him in Chicago in about six weeks. For now, he's trying to concentrate on hockey while not forgetting his friend or others that died in the crash.
"When I came home it was the best thing that can happen for a person," Hossa said of his daughter's birth. "It was my close friend [who died] and my daughter made it easier for me to get through it."
Jesse Rogers covers the Blackhawks for ESPN 1000 and ESPNChicago.com.