Big stage doesn't rattle Blackhawks' Saad
Brandon Saad is just 20 and will have the eyes of the hockey world on him during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday.
Sounds like a lot of pressure, right?
Saad, though, lives at his own pace and seemingly is impervious to that pressure. The Gibsonia native was a force in Game 1 for the Blackhawks and is three wins from becoming the first Pittsburgh-trained hockey player to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
“I'm not surprised by anything he is doing,” said Jim Lilja, who started coaching Saad when the Calder Trophy nominee was 10 and playing for the Pittsburgh Hornets. “Even when he was a boy, he had that quiet confidence. He was always so driven. He wanted to be on the ice in pressure situations.”
The Blackhawks like having him in those situations, too.
Though Saad endured a mini-slump in the postseason, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville decided to reunite him with linemates Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa for the Stanley Cup Final. A revived Saad scored his first goal of the playoffs and was among the most dominant players in Game 1, a triple-overtime win against Boston.
His confidence may have wavered, but it never cracked.
“I embrace playing in hockey games like these ones,” Saad said. “I'm enjoying the moment.”
While Saad obviously is excited to be playing in the Stanley Cup Final, he admitted to quietly pulling for the Penguins to win the Eastern Conference final against the Bruins.
Playing in the Stanley Cup Final is great, but doing so in his hometown would have been a bonus.
“I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about the possibility,” Saad said. “Honestly, playing in front of my friends and family on that kind of stage would have been special. But I'm not complaining about anything.”
Saad has become a hit in Chicago, his offensive talent jelling nicely this season with the Blackhawks' plethora of stars.
“I admit that playing with so many great players was maybe a little uncomfortable early in the season,” Saad said. “But not now.”
Lilja, who has coached Pittsburgh youth hockey for 27 years, knew Saad had an opportunity to be special — his soft hands and smooth skating in a power forward's body giving him a physical advantage over others. It was his attitude, though, that put Saad over the top.
“Brandon doesn't really have an ego,” Lilja said. “He's never been arrogant in any way. Never. He just always wanted to be successful and quietly went about his business. When you're that grounded, that good of a kid, that hard working and that talented, you're going to give yourself a chance to do something special.”
No Pittsburgh-born, Pittsburgh-trained player has won the Stanley Cup. Ryan Malone (Upper St. Clair) came close, but he left the Penguins following the 2007-08 season, one year before they won the championship. George Parros, born in Washington, Pa., won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, but he spent the majority of his childhood in New Jersey.
Either Saad or Matt Bartkowski, a Mt. Lebanon graduate and Bruins defenseman, has a chance to make history this month. Bartkowski did not get his name on the Cup in 2011 because he didn't play enough games for the Bruins to qualify for the honor.
“It's an honor to try and win the Stanley Cup,” Saad said. “It's honor regardless of where you're from. But to be a guy from Pittsburgh, yeah, that would make it extra special.”
Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.
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