TRENCIN, Slovakia -- Tomas Tatar is already feeling the heat to win a Stanley Cup at 24 years old and fewer than 200 games into his NHL career.
Tatar's blessing and curse is that he originates from the Trencin region, a small area in northwestern Slovakia where NHL players might as well be considered an export. The town of Dubnica has delivered Tatar and Tomas Kopecky to the NHL in recent years, and nearby Trencin is the hometown of Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik and Marian Hossa. The two towns' combined population is less than 100,000.
But not only does the Trencin region produce NHL players, it produces winning ones: Chara, Gaborik, Hossa and Kopecky have seven Stanley Cup championship rings between them. The visit by the Cup has become such a frequent event that people have come to expect its annual arrival, which is where the pressure on Tatar comes in.
"I'm getting questions like, 'When are you going to bring it?'" said Tatar, a Detroit Red Wings winger, while seated in the patio area of Hossa's 81 Sport Bar in Trencin on Friday afternoon. "I think it's crazy because people here don't realize how hard it is, and just the fact the Cup was here so many times makes it something wonderful. I'm not sure if any city in the world did this. It's amazing. It's fun to be around with these guys."
The Stanley Cup's first appearance in the region came when Kopecky won it with the Red Wings in 2008. Hossa and Kopecky won it as teammates with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, Chara with the Boston Bruins in 2011, Hossa with the Blackhawks in 2013 and Gaborik with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014.
The Stanley Cup and its keepers journeyed back to Trencin this past week as Hossa was given two days with it to celebrate the Blackhawks' championship.
"It's pretty unique," said Hockey Hall of Fame's Howie Borrow, who is one of the Cup's keepers. "Every time you think of going to certain places, you might think of Canada with a ton of players being from Ontario or somewhere out west. But you think of the city of Trencin, yeah, it's been here a number of times in a row. It's pretty amazing."
There was a time when the Stanley Cup wasn't making stops in the region, and that's something the players haven't forgotten either.
"Years back before the first Cup came here, we talked about how much bad luck we had because we had so many NHL guys from our town, so many players in the league and never got the Cup," said former NHL player Richard Lintner, who is also from Trencin. "Then, we broke it at one point and ever since then we've had the Cup here almost every year. I think it's incredible such a small town like Trencin is being so fortunate to have it so often. It's pretty cool."
Everything is a competition
Hossa and Kopecky were the first to put on a real show with the Stanley Cup in Trencin.
They decided to co-host a party in Trencin for their friends and family after winning the Cup in 2010. With Peter Neveris, Hossa's Slovakian agent, in charge of the plans, the idea of holding the party at Trencin Castle was born.
Neveris received a call from Chara the next year to organize his party at Trencin Castle. Hossa rang Neveris again in 2013 and Gaborik did the same in 2014, and they all sought the same location: Trencin Castle, which dates back to the second century and overlooks the town.
But the historic castle and magnificent views of the city became repetitive within a few years, and the players desired more. Musical acts and video screens were added. And Gaborik took it to another level last year when he displayed a highlight video on the castle.
"The party is better, better, better, better, expensive, expensive, expensive," Neveris said. "Each party was at the castle and still more people, more food, more everything. It's crazy."
Hossa wasn't going to be outdone. His castle party for 300-plus people on Friday included famous Slovakian radio and television presenters Milan Zimnykoval (best known as Junior) and Marcel Forgae as the masters of ceremony, the Slovakia Ministry of Defense marching band, Chicago performance artist Elliot From, two outdoor LED screens, numerous musical acts and Hossa and Blackhawks' banners hanging from the castle. Earlier in the day, Hossa also held a Stanley Cup parade through Trencin, where people, many in red Hossa T-shirts, lined the streets to catch a glimpse of Hossa and the Cup.
"You don't always want to repeat what is happening the previous year or years," said Chara, who took a picture with Hossa, Gaborik and Kopecky with the Stanley Cup at Trencin Castle on Friday. "You want to come up with something new. It's not an easy task. They did a good job. Today was the first time for a parade. I didn't see it, but I heard it was a good response. I'm sure the people appreciated it."
Hossa received help from sponsors with the two-day tour. Volkswagen Slovakia provided three cars, which included Blackhawks and Stanley Cup logos, and held a ceremony for him at its manufacturing plant in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Thursday. Pepsi and Stella Artois were also among the sponsors. Even with that assistance, the price tag for Hossa's Stanley Cup parties came to more than 100,000 Euro (about $116,000), according to Neveris.
"This time here is very big advertising for the city," said Trencin mayor Richard Rybnicek. "It's very good for the city here and the people who live in Trencin. It's a special time. We're a small city. Small cities in the world are millions, but we are very popular because we have these men from hockey. This is good for the new investments."
Tatar would like his own Stanley Cup, but not exactly at the price tag that comes with it.
"It's kind of funny seeing how these guys are competing between each other who's going to have a better party," Tatar said. "I'm really happy I'm a part of it and so far I'm a visitor."
Hossa certainly believed it was money well spent.
"It's spectacular," Hossa said at Trencin Castle around 11 p.m. on Friday. "We had all my Stanley Cups and all my buddies' Stanley Cups in the castle. Right now, I think this is the most beautiful. It's so much fun. I think everyone is enjoying it."
With that said, the 36-year-old Hossa plans to get out of the Stanley Cup party business if he's fortunate enough to win it for a fourth time.
"We talked about it," said Hossa, who required an afternoon nap on Friday afternoon. "If we win a fourth, I don't think we'll do anything. We'll just leave it in the garden and enjoy it. Everything is amazing, but it's very tiring. I'm glad I can enjoy it with my friends and family, but if we're lucky and there's going to be a fourth one, definitely I'm not planning anything. I'm going to enjoy it with my family."
3 #StanleyCup winners from same town&street :-) @MGaborik12 #zdenochara #marianhossa pic.twitter.com/svJo9b6qLj— Roman Krajniak (@krajnr) August 21, 2015
A crazy goal
Ritch Winter will never forget the meeting he and Hossa held in a Sheraton Hotel room in Atlanta around Christmas in 2007.
Winter, Hossa's North American agent, asks all of his clients to set goals, and he was trying to figure out what Hossa -- then a member of the Thrashers -- wished for throughout the remainder of his career.
"Marian, like a lot of players, hadn't given a lot of thought to what an agent could do," said Winter, who has attended all of Hossa's Stanley Cup parties in Trencin. "I started asking him where do you want your children -- which he didn't have at the time -- to go to school? You're going to sign a 10-, 12-year contract. You have to think of those things.
"It was just an interesting meeting. We sat at a hotel room in Atlanta and crafted a plan for his life."
After setting all of the realistic goals, Winter asked Hossa for a "crazy" goal. Hossa, who then hadn't won a Stanley Cup, told him three Stanley Cups.
"To tell you the truth, I don't remember telling him three, but maybe I did," Hossa said. "Definitely one for sure [it] was on my bucket list."
As Kopecky took in Hossa's third Stanley Cup party at Trencin Castle on Friday, he couldn't help but think of Hossa's battle for that first Stanley Cup in 2010. Hossa had been denied the Cup in the Stanley Cup finals while playing with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 and again in the finals with the Red Wings in 2009.
Kopecky reminded Hossa throughout the 2009-10 season with the Blackhawks how special winning the Stanley Cup was going to be.
"I kept telling him it's going to be an awesome party," Kopecky said. "If we win it, it's going to be amazing. He was pushing me to play harder, obviously pushing everyone else because they saw how bad Marian wants to win it. To be in the finals two years in a row and not win it, it gets in your mind a little bit. Maybe he's cursed or something. We kept thinking positive. I kept telling him about the party and how it is."
Hossa doesn't forget that path either. One Stanley Cup would have been sufficient. Three is unreal.
"When I was a little kid, I always dreamed to win the Cup just once," Hossa said. "Now in the last six years, we've done it three times. I think we still don't know what we really did in these six years. I think it's going to come a little bit later. Right now, we're going to enjoy it.
"Being a part of a small dynasty, I never thought of it. Right now we are. It's an amazing feeling. It's a special feeling and I'm just lucky to be part of it."
The next generation
Slovakian hockey has seen better days.
Youth participation numbers have declined. Fans have lost interest and faith in the Extraliga, Slovakia's professional league. The country isn't generating as many NHL players -- 15 players from Slovakia were selected in the 2001 NHL draft and a total of 14 have been taken in the past five years.
Gaborik, Hossa and others are putting their money back into the community in hope of correcting the issues. Gaborik built an ice rink. Hossa has a multi-sport complex.
"I have my own rink and I try to have a hockey school all year round and a big hockey school in the summer," Gaborik said. "I have great people running it and doing the stuff they're doing. That's helping for sure, but we need more. [We need the] Slovak government to help us out.
"Slovak hockey is in a bit of a pickle. We, as players, we're trying to change things. We're in a bit of a lockout mode in terms of trying to change management and people who are running Slovak hockey right now. Everyone is on the same page and we believe we can change it and go from there."
Tatar has also contributed to the cause.
"We are trying to help the kids," Tatar said. "The biggest problem here in Slovakia is that hockey is kind of an expensive sport. You got to pay for the equipment. You have to pay the coach. You have to pay for the ice. It's not easy. We're trying to help as much as we can. I donate some equipment. Guys do it a lot. Marian [Hossa] does it big time. We're trying to help as much as we can. Trying to keep the hockey going."
There is optimism for the future of Extraliga, which has been accused of corruption, after the recent hiring of Lintner to oversee the league. Lintner wants to get the fans more involved in the league and find ways to increase youth involvement. He thought having the Stanley Cup return to Slovakia again was obviously helpful, too.
"It's a great inspiration," Lintner said. "All those stories we have here. Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Tomas Kopecky, the kids are following them, watching them. For sure it helps to bring the number higher. I have to admit the last few years the number has been decreasing.
"But actually right now, I just got 10 days into the position of the chief of Slovakia Extraliga. It's also a little bit on my shoulders to change that momentum to increase the number of players playing hockey. With the steps we have ahead of us, we're going to prove [we're] going to make it happen.""
With all of the hockey problems throughout Slovakia, Trencin is one town that has continued to stay afloat. Reporters Tomas Prokop and Stan Bencat, who write for Slovakia's Sport, covered Hossa's Stanley Cup tour and thought Hossa and the other NHL players were partly responsible for Trencin's continued success.
"For example, ice hockey has a lot of problems with the players," Prokop said. "In Trencin, they don't have a problem. They still have enough kids and things because they have idols like Marian Hossa and Zdeno Chara and these guys. ... It's like a special island in all of Slovakia."
A dream fulfilled
Marian Hrban knows his eight-year-old son Max, who has cerebral palsy, won't ever play hockey like Marian Hossa.
But Hrban's hope is Max will be driven to achieve his own greatness after meeting Hossa this past week. Max was nominated to be on Slovakia's TV show "Siedmom Nebi," which grants people's wishes, and Max spent time with Hossa on Tuesday and Friday in Trencin.
"He can maybe do something not the same [as Hossa] because he won't be able to do, but maybe something in his way," said Hrban, who is from Bratislava. "I think it was an inspiration for him to maybe work a little more and maybe try to find some sport which will be the best for him. Maybe one day he will be sportsman, maybe not. If not, I think it's good for every child to play sports, for his future life, for his health."
Hrban was impressed with Hossa after spending three hours with him on Tuesday and meeting him again on Friday with the Stanley Cup.
"He was very nice," Hrban said. "Despite his famous things, he's still quite the guy from the street. He can speak with you no problem. He's not posh, something like that. I was surprised he was quite nice."
Hossa was glad to do it and included Max in is Stanley Cup celebration.
"Small things like that, making little kids happy, I'm glad I could help him," Hossa said. "The little kid really loves hockey. He loves the National Hockey League. When they told me the story, I said, 'Yeah, let's do it because I think it's a great idea.' Him taking a picture at the end with the Stanley Cup was an amazing finish."