Brandon Saad still remembers the excitement that enveloped his hometown of Pittsburgh when the Penguins made their march towards the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 with Sidney Crosby and Evengi Malkin leading the charge.
Now 500 miles and five years later, Saad has a front row seat to the same type of enthusiasm blowing through the Windy City as the Chicago Blackhawks are the toast of the town during this lockout-shortended NHL season.
And the 20-year-old Pittsburgh native has played a pivotal role in the team’s success.
“I’ve been commenting on Sadder’s play every game right now,” Blackhawks’ captain Jonathan Toews laughed following another of the Blackhawks’ league-leading victories.
“He is getting better and better, and it’s pretty amazing considering his skill level and the age he is at. I can’t say enough about his improvement this year, and that’s on top of the skill and ability he already has.”
With 10 goals and 17 assists, Saad finished among the league leaders in rookie scoring. Of course it helps to have the luxury of playing on the ’Hawks top line alongside Toews and veteran winger Marian Hossa.
“It’s awesome,” said Saad, who was drafted by Chicago in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. “It’s always a dream to play in the NHL, but to be this young and to be on the line I’m on and the team I’m on with the success we are having, it’s been a whirlwind.”
Listed at 6-foot-1, 202 pounds, Saad brings not only a scoring touch to the lineup but an aggressive style of play. His size and presence have earned him the nickname “Man-Child” this season from teammates and Saad’s physicality on the ice has left his veteran teammates, impressed with the young forward.
“We know that when he gets the puck something is going to happen,” Toews said. “He is not afraid to go against the big bodies in the corners, and even in open ice is not afraid to get hit.”
The former member of the National Team Development Program credits his time in Ann Arbor, Mich., with helping him adjust to playing such a short and demanding season following the NHL lockout.
“It’s a tough league, and I think throughout my years going to the National Program has obviously prepared me well,” Saad said. “It was kind of a grind in itself with the amount of workouts you do, but it keeps you prepared on and off the ice. It was huge for my game.”
Before making a name for himself in Chicago, Saad was perfecting his craft in the Steel City where he played for the Pittsburgh Hornets as well as his local high school, Pine-Richland.
Saad served as an alternate captain on the 14U Hornets at the 2007 USA Hockey National Championship in Amherst, N.Y.
“To go to those tournaments and getting to see other great teams and play against and compete has always been fun to be apart of,” said Saad, who led Pine-Richland to the Penguins Cup during his freshman year.
Over the years Pittsburgh has evolved into a top-tier hockey town. After playing this year in Chicago, Saad can see plenty of similarities between the two proud and passionate fan bases.
“Hockey is picking up, and it’s a good sports town,” Saad said. “It’s a good hockey town, too. It’s exciting. It’s loud. You can see the improvement coming through with the new arena.”
With the Blackhawks and Penguins both finishing on top in their respective conferences, Saad could easily find himself back in Pittsburgh during another Stanley Cup Finals.
Only this time Pittsburgh’s favorite son will be standing in the way of another celebration in the Steel City.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images (2); Walsh family
Age: 15 | Newbury, Mass
Tom Walsh comes from a family that has dedicated countless hours to philanthropic work across Massachusetts. After being involved in turkey drives with the Pettengill House in Salisbury, Mass., Walsh was ready, and inspired, to take his volunteer work to the next level.
Walsh combined his love for golf with his passion for community service to create the Pettengill Cup, an annual golf tournament that will take place July 29 at the Ipswich Country Club.
Last year Walsh raised $25,000 for the non-profit social service agency that provides care to at-risk individuals, children and families through education and therapeutic interventions.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this St. John’s Prep and U16 Valley Jr. Warrior hockey standout. Not only is Walsh balancing his charity, school and athletic commitments but he is also running three U16 summer tournament teams.
“There is no time off for me,” Walsh said. “A lot of kids are going to parties or hanging out with their friends. My social life has to take a back seat. But I just have to stay determined. I know that it will be for the best in the end.”
For more information on the Pettengill Cup, go to pettengillhouse.org.