Pine-Richland grad Saad enjoying history class with Chicago
Pine-Richland graduate Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks is congratulated by teammates after scoring a goal in the first period of a Feb. 5 game in San Jose against the Sharks
Gibsonia native Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks at American Airlines Center on January 24, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.
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The Stanley Cup was raised in Pittsburgh the year Brandon Saad was born.
A little more than 20 years later, he has skated onto the top line of the streaking Chicago Blackhawks, the hottest team in the NHL with a 17-0-3 start after beating host St. Louis, 3-0, Thursday night.
For the rookie from Gibsonia, it has been a wild ride.
"It's been crazy getting this opportunity and being able to be up here now," said Saad, 20. "To play in the NHL at this age was always my dream. But making history with the record we've set has just been a whirlwind."
Saad, a left winger, has scored three goals in 20 games, including the short-handed winner Feb. 22 against the San Jose Sharks on the night the Blackhawks claimed the best start in NHL history, While killing a penalty early in the third period, he took an outlet pass in the Blackhawks zone, bolted up the left wing, made a move around a defenseman and beat goalie Antti Niemi on his glove side, inside the far post.
The Blackhawks, Saad said, are having the puck framed for him.
His older brother, George Saad, who played the last game of his college hockey career for Penn State a few days ago, watched from the couch in his apartment.
"I think my head almost hit the ceiling," he said. "When they threw him on the line with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews, they knew he was skilled enough to keep up with those guys."
Brandon Saad joined the Blackhawks lineup one game into the season after an injury to Daniel Carcillo and has seen time on the power-play and penalty-killing units as well as taking regular shifts.
"You can tell they must think very highly of him," said former Penguins forward Troy Loney, who coached Saad at Pine-Richland High School. "Not too many teams took rookies at the beginning of the year. He showed what he could provide at the end of last year. The fact he has played on the fourth line and moved his way up, it shows he can play on any of those lines, which is really important."
A second-round pick by the Blackhawks in 2011, Saad, who had his first assists this season last night, has the frame of a power forward -- 6-feet-1, 202 pounds -- and the vision and hands of skill player. George Saad said that years ago in Pittsburgh it became obvious to him that his brother was going places.
"You'd notice little things in a game," George Saad said. "He was 15 playing with 17-year-olds. He had great balance on the puck, great vision and [could] see plays before they happen. I loved playing with him."
Brandon Saad played one year for Pine-Richland and the Pittsburgh Hornets amateur program, before joining the U.S. national development program. He was drafted by the Ontario Junior Hockey League and spent two seasons with the Saginaw Spirit in Michigan.
"He had that hockey sense," said Loney. "Things he would do along the boards. He'd make plays you'd expect from an older player. He was a man and the other boys were just young boys trying to be men."
Saad played two playoff games last spring with Chicago and eight games with the Blackhawks American Hockey League affiliate (Rockford IceHogs) this season before heading to the NHL after the lockout ended.
What might have helped him land so quickly on the top line is his work ethic. His former national development team coach Kurt Kleinendorst, now coach at Alabama-Huntsville, explained that Saad can do the dirty work.
"It's amazing [they] take a 20-year-old kid and put him in that position and are comfortable enough that he can do it responsibly," said Kleinendorst. "No question, you cannot be in that position, at that age, not responsible without the puck.
"Someone has to be the first one on the puck, to go get it and give it to the other guy to put it in the back of the net. Someone has got to be willing to do the dirty work."
Saad said he gets that.
"This level is big on consistency," said Saad. "There's a lot of games you have to come prepared to do your job and, even if you're not scoring, you can work hard defensively, and that's something I strive to do."
The size and finesse were already there when Saad joined Kleinendorst's team in 2008.
"He's a horse. Just a horse," said Kleinendorst. "A big, strong, solid-bodied kid that can skate with a skill set as good as anybody. I would be willing to bet Brandon [would say] he benefited most by learning how to play without the puck.
"He was a special player with the puck. Had great offensive instincts, but what he did for me was commit to becoming a better player defensively."
Saad said that is helping him. For now, though, he's taking it all in.
"I'm just enjoying the ride," said Saad. "There's been a lot of great moments playing up here. It's something you dream of and don't want to let it go by too fast."
First Published March 1, 2013 12:00 am