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FEATURE: Fatherhood Bringing Out Best of Saad

Taking mind off hockey 24/7 has paid dividends for new father Brandon Saad's game

by Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc / Blackhawks.com

For the first seven seasons of his NHL career, Brandon Saad had pretty much one thing on his mind at all times: Hockey, hockey and more hockey.

What happened on the ice didn't always stay there as Saad often carried the good and the bad with him everywhere he went.

These days, Saad is much more introspective about the sport and his role in it and the result has been a relaxed winger who has being arguably the Blackhawks most consistent performer over the first month of the season.

"I'm just not over-thinking things and staying relaxed," Saad said. "Especially when we're losing games or things get tight sometimes you tense up or try to do too much. I'm just trying to stay relaxed out there, let my game flow, use my speed, get around the net and use what I can do to my advantage."

What led Saad to come to the realization that there was more to life than hockey?

On Aug. 1, 2019, Saad's wife, Alyssa, gave birth to their son, Teo.

Tweet from @NHLBlackhawks: Congrats to Brandon and Alyssa on the birth of their first baby boy! Baby Saad and new parents are all doing great. #BlackhawksBabies pic.twitter.com/eV4N5glQpz

Suddenly, the stresses caused by turnovers in the offensive zone, missed defensive assignments or firing wide on breakaways weren't the end of the world and there was a way to have them melt away almost instantaneously.

"When you get home and see that ball of life whatever stresses you have, whether it's from the rink or otherwise, you kind of see that life is not that bad," Saad, 27, said. "You go home to your kid and it puts a smile on your face. That part of it helps a lot. I've always liked and been close to my family so to go home and have your own and be able to enjoy that makes it nice to have that other avenue."

How does that differ from Saad's earlier seasons, including his first stint with the Blackhawks from 2012-15 followed by two seasons with the Blue Jackets before his return to Chicago in '17?

"Back then, all you're doing is thinking hockey all the time - 24/7 - and that's good, too, but sometimes it can be a little too much and you just have to step back." 

By being able to step back, Saad has stepped up this season. He has five goals and two assists in 15 games, including an empty-net score during the Blackhawks' 5-2 victory over the Canucks on Thursday night at the United Center.

"He's been excellent in all areas," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "It seems like every situation we put him in he's good. He's making really strong puck decisions, carrying the puck up ice, getting us out of the D-zone and into the O-zone. He's been really good, especially down low, controlling the play and creating chances for himself and his linemates. He's been very good for us."

Video: PHI@CHI: Saad beats Elliott on the break

And much of it can be traced back to a positive mental attitude cultivated by his life away from the rink.

"It's as much a mental game as it is physical," Saad said. "You can over-think it or maybe put too much pressure on yourself rather than just relaxing and playing. We're all here for a reason. I know I can play the game - I've been successful in the past so really it's just getting that aspect of the game down and doing it consistently."

Consistency is something Colliton and the Blackhawks have been searching for, including getting pucks and bodies to the net. Saad has been effective at getting to the front and converting when he gets there.

"It's just creating the opportunity more and then when you get it not looking to pass," Saad said. "Sometimes, I'm looking to over-pass and when you do that it kind of slows you down and then if you want to take it you get checked or you lose it or you get fought off. It's just having the attack mode and initial reaction and then plays will open up"

If those plays do not open, Saad knows that once he arrives at his home in Lakeview, his family will provide an instant mental lift, mostly thanks to Teo, who is "a lot of just smiles and giggles right now."

"I love it," Saad said. "I've always wanted a family like this so it's nice that it's finally here."

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