For years Marian Hossa prepared for games the same way -- by basically showing up at the rink, putting on his equipment and playing.
Those days are over for the Blackhawks winger, who turns 35 in January.
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Because of the back problem that kept him out for all of training camp, Hossa's pregame ritual has changed. He now reports a little earlier to stretch and do whatever else he feels is necessary to make sure his back is ready to go when the puck is dropped.
So far, so good for Hossa, who has played in all six games for the Hawks, including last weekend's back-to-back wins over the Islanders and Buffalo.
"I was pretty lucky that I didn't have to do it very much until this year," Hossa said. "I started stretching more the last couple years, but now because of injuries I've had in the past I really have to take care of my body a little bit better.
"That means getting here a little earlier and doing all the things to get you ready for practice and the games. When I was a young guy I just came to the dressing room, changed and went straight on to the ice and I just felt good. That doesn't happen anymore. Now I'm just like the other older guys."
Patrick Sharp, who will be 32 in December, knows that day is coming for himself as well when he is going to have to do a little extra to play in the games.
"You see what Hoss does, and you appreciate it," Sharp said. "He's always ready to play for us. We can depend on him.
"I'm not there yet, but I know that day is coming for me when I'll have to do the same thing."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville knows he has a few players he must treat special as far as their age is concerned. Hossa is one, Michal Handzus another and Michal Rozsival a third.
"Everybody has their way of getting ready," Quenneville said. "I think one of the things about being a pro is every day there are challenges and you've got to prepare. How much time you need to get into it, everybody is different.
"Whether you're in the training room or you stretch, you get a good sweat going before the game or before practice starts, that's all part of learning your body and trying to max it out."
Hossa scored his second goal of the season in Tuesday's win at Carolina.
"Hoss is getting back to where he was," Quenneville said. "You can see it every day in practice. I see more pace to his game and it seems like he's skating better and is around the puck more and has it a little more.
"It's just a matter of time before he gets up to that top, top speed. It's good to know that guys like Hoss definitely know their bodies and do whatever it takes to get ready."
Handzus needed last Saturday off on the second night of those back-to-back games, but other than that he has been very effective in whatever role Quenneville has decided to use him in.
"He's been very useful," Quenneville said. "You can play him in all situations. You can play him with top guys and in different roles. He can play the wing, penalty killing, be on the power play, he's a big body and a great pro.
"He's been a great fit for us. You're always talking who's going to play in that position (at second-line center), and you always know you've got him to be one of the guys."
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