Pro hockey | Stanley Cup Final

Overseas Hawks natives connect with ethnic communities here

2013-06-14T19:15:00Z 2013-06-14T23:49:06Z Overseas Hawks natives connect with ethnic communities hereGeorge Castle Times Correspondent
June 14, 2013 7:15 pm  • 

CHICAGO | The names of the special welcoming committee in the Blackhawks locker room require a bit of patience for Americans to spell out.

Start with Niklas Hjalmarsson. A Hawk since 2007, he’s the senior Swedish player on the roster and the go-to-guy for his countrymen.

Go across the room to Marian Hossa’s dressing space. A big-name free-agent when he signed with the Hawks in 2009, the Slovakian native has been the one three other Slovak and Czech Hawks sought out.

Hjalmarsson and Hossa brought the Stanley Cup to their home towns in Sweden and Slovakia in 2010. Each would love to return the NHL’s top talisman to their countries to share with their teammates this summer.

In the case of Hossa and the other Slovaks and Czechs, their Hawks achievements could be a part of a documentary projected for WTTW (Ch. 11) titled “Czechs in Chicago: A Home in the Heartland.”

Bears founder George Halas, a Bohemian, along with Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, founder of the Democratic machine, would be centerpieces of the show. The Bears recently held a fundraiser for the documentary at Halas Hall.

Hossa’s positive effect on his teammates would be a logical storyline.

“When I got here, he helped me a lot,” said fourth-line winger/top penalty killer Michael Frolik. “I came here from Florida and I didn’t know anybody. He showed me a few restaurants and a few spots where to go. I was glad he was here and he helped me out.

“I know there’s a lot of Czech people here, it’s one of the biggest (communities) in America. It’s always nice when you can speak your language.

Hossa has found a home away from home in Chicago.

“I know some people from Slovakia who live here,” he said. “I talk to them and they’re excited. The great thing about Chicago is it’s a big city and we kind of blend in more.”

As more Swedes joined him, Hjalmarsson’s happiness quotient increased.

“It’s fun to have some guys from back home, to speak our own language, to talk about what’s going on back home,” he said. “The addition of Johnny (Oduya) on the back end has been huge for us since he came here. He added depth on the blue line. (Marcus) Kruger is doing a great job on the penalty kill.”

Hjalmarsson took both his Swedish teammates and North American stars like Jonathan Toews to a Swedish restaurant in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, two miles north of Wrigley Field, during the Christmas holidays to take advantage of a special holiday menu.

“That was awesome,” Kruger said of the food. “That was almost better than home. You haven’t had it for awhile.”

Best entrée? “Herring,” Kruger said. “That’s something you miss from home. That was almost like back home.”

The Czechs prefer a bread dumpling with meat and sauce. In the end, they end up consuming the many-ethnic offerings of Chicago, a good eatin’ town.

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