Ah, Marcel Hossa. Probably the biggest bust in recent Montréal Canadiens history. In a team known for disappointing first-round draft picks, this one might have hurt the most. They chose him, of course, because he's Marian's little brother, and they were hoping he had some of his sibling's hockey genes - and he did, although, obviously, less. The problem is he doesn't have Marian's work ethic.
Drafted in June 2000, he had yet to average a point per game in juniors (a feat he did achieve the following year), so taking him in the first round put undue pressure on him to perform at a high level, especially when picked ahead of fellow first rounders Brooks Orpik, Alexander Frolov, Anton Volchenkov, Brad Boyes and Niklas Kronwall and other 2000 picks Nick Schultz, Ilya Bryzgalov, Jarrett Stoll, Antoine Vermette, Dan Ellis, Paul Martin, Michael Rupp, Ramzi Abid, Kurt Sauer, Dominic Moore, Niclas Wallin, Lubomir Visnovsky, Michel Ouellet, Travis Moen, John-Michael Liles, Roman Cechmanek, Paul Gaustad, Jean-Philippe Côté, and a certain goalie named Henrik Lundqvist.
While in the Canadiens' organization, he managed just 17 points (9 goals) in 44 NHL games, as well as 104 points (54 goals) in 144 games with their AHL affiliates Citadelles de Québec and Hamilton Bulldogs.
The Habs traded him to the New York Rangers for semi-tough utility player Garth Murray, before they gave up on him themselves and sent him packing to the Phoenix Coyotes. He currently plays for the Dinamo Riga of the KHL.
These autographs were gathered in person at the Canadiens' Jamboree outside the Bell Centre right before the 2002-03 season got under way - a season he began in the AHL, as he was sent down to the Bulldogs just a couple of days after I met him.
It was a bizarre day in September, where the barricaded area in front of the team's home arena held mostly children and overweight adult, and all the players were signing whatever was presented to them, but most people were after José Theodore (who had just won the Vézina and Hart trophies), Saku Koivu (the team captain who had just won the Bill Masterton trophy and beaten cancer), and local-boy star-to-be Mike Ribeiro. Those three shared the main booth in the middle of the staging area, while the rest of the players walked around and roamed to see the different kiosks set up to please fans. A few of those other players seemed to find the event bizarre, such as Donald Audette, who was taken aback by kids screaming his last name ''Hey Audette, sign this'', and not even showing a glimpse of politeness, while others didn't really look like they wanted to be there at all (read my account of meeting Jeff Hackett here, and Éric Chouinard here, both from the same day).
What was weirdest about that day was the one player management had high hopes on and were trying to sell to fans was standing in one corner, all alone, by himself. Either no one recognized Hossa, or no one really cared about the player who was still a considered rookie despite having already played 10 games in the NHL (3 goals, 1 assist - 4 points - and 2 penalty minutes and a +2 rating). He really looked bored out of his mind but intent on staying outside for the complete half-hour the team was ''strongly suggesting'' its players to stay out for, so I went up to him for a chat. We ended up talking all afternoon, just about uninterrupted.
He was a really cool guy, relaxed, apparently not adverse to having a good time, without giving into excess like others I'd met or played with. We talked about my own junior career, which had ended just about when his started and he inquired about the City, its night life, its Culture, its landmarks, its districts. He was eager to learn and time just flew by. We even made plans to meet up once in a while for food and/or drinks, so he could learn about his new surroundings.
Unfortunately, since he was sent to Hamilton, those plans were not to be. And having seen last season how certain people can become a bad influence on hockey players (and with Ribeiro and Theodore primed to get on the party train themselves), I'm not sure an independent musician who gets paid as often in drinks as he does in cash would have been seen by the organization as the ideal person to have around one of its players...
All in all, though, it was a really good day. He signed both of my cards and even complained about Upper Deck's lack of originality for having put the same picture on two of their different brands' cards (a situation I had seen years earlier with Alain Chevrier's Pro Set and O-Pee-Chee cards). He signed the 2002-03 Victory card (#115) in blue sharpie and, upon realizing the ink was coming off and smudging (that was before I heard that erasers can help keep ink in by removing some of the cards' polish), he signed the 2002-03 Vintage (#336) Rookie card in black.
His signature is the exact same both times, looking like a # sign, followed by a dude wearing a hat and a Japanese-looking sign for ''fish'' underneath, but he swears it says 'Marcel Hossa', and I believe him.