Chatter is building about chances of a Calder Trophy for Brandon Saad, the Blackhawks' prodigy at left wing. He skates on the top line for an elite National Hockey League team, so he deserves consideration as this year's outstanding rookie despite that nickname of "Man-Child." Only the birth certificate is visual proof that he's 20.
Saad's maturity on ice is backed by evidence, but it's his deliberate maneuvers elsewhere that fascinate his lodge brothers. Andrew Shaw, his road roommate, regales anyone who will listen about how it takes Saad two hours to watch "60 Minutes" -- that is, when "Man-Child" isn't bivouacked in the bathroom, shaving and fixing his hair.
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"Not true, none of it," insists Saad.
Shaw is relentless, volunteering that Saad might even don a robe on occasion, like Hugh Hefner. But he was born four score and seven years ago. Then there's the airplane, where Saad will drape a napkin from his collar across his chest so as to protect his shirt.
"Now, how many rookies would think of that?" Shaw chirps. "How many kids are that far advanced? That's why he's Man-Child."
Saad could note the absence of soup stains on his ties, but what's the point? He just rolls his eyes and listens. Shaw, who is nicknamed "Mutt," has a huge advantage in seniority, being a fossil at 21. Besides, the "Man-Child" and the "Mutt" exemplify the chemistry that pervades this Blackhawks roster. They might be opposites, but more important, they are teammates.
"Fearless," praises captain Jonathan Toews, who centers for Saad and Marian Hossa. "Man-Child looks and plays a lot older than he is."
There have been a few Blackhawks of Saad's ilk. Grant Mulvey was a big, raw-boned kid who got tagged with "Granny" almost instantly. Mulvey rarely hurried, except to reach the NHL. He spent nary a day in the minors, scored his first goal when he was 18 and remains the only man in franchise history to collect five in a game.
Then there was Steve Larmer, alias "Grandpa." Laconic, with a voice that was guttural going on grumpy, Larmer enjoyed a cigarette with his coffee while shunning the limelight whenever possible. Drafted 120th, Larmer became one of the best two-way wingers ever, an iron man who played the same on the road as he did at home while building a consecutive-game streak of 884. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. Ask Denis Savard about "Grandpa."
Saad opened last season with the Blackhawks, was returned to his junior squad -- the Saginaw Spirit, coached by former Hawk Greg Gilbert -- and might have followed Mulvey's path of avoiding the bushes. But during the NHL lockout last fall, Saad played for the Blackhawks' farm club in Rockford, where he excelled. When the Blackhawks finally reported to camp in January, he was ready. Strong, smart and steady, Saad entered Sunday's game with eight goals and a +13 rating.
"This is awesome, playing with this team in front of these fans, skating with two of the best players in the world -- Toews and Hossa," says Saad, who was born in Pittsburgh just as the Penguins were winning consecutive Stanley Cups. That first time on skates, at about 2 ½, was emblazoned in his mind. Then he started watching Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
"Hockey was it for me," says Saad, who admits to being big when he was little, even as he deflects accusations about being old when he's young. "I played all sports, and was pretty athletic, but I fell in love with hockey."
Saad's father, George, left Syria when he was 18, earned a degree at Columbia University, then furthered his education at the University of Pittsburgh. There, he met his future wife, Sandra, who is Polish. Saad's brother, also George, plays hockey at Penn State and is a teammate of Eddie Olczyk's son, Tommy.
"Dad is my idol," says Saad. "He came to the United States with no money, alone, didn't speak English. He worked hard to build a career and is very good at his profession: industrial engineering, buying and selling commercial real estate. He pursued his dream -- to come to America and start a new life. My thought was that if the hockey thing doesn't work out, I can always get an education. He was behind me all the way, and still is."
Saad, who lives alone downtown, professes to be invisible out of uniform -- a theory he can't quite slip by Shaw.
"He's famous and he's single," corrects the "Mutt."
"This guy here, he likes to stir it," counters the "Man-Child." "I'm private and I stay off the map."
Steve Larmer tried that too. Then he won the Calder Trophy as best rookie in 1983. His acceptance speech set an indoor record for brevity.
Editor's note: As part of an alliance with the Blackhawks, the Daily Herald will offer occasional features by Team Historian Bob Verdi, who writes for the team's website at www.chicagoblackhawks.com.