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Patrick Sharp: The Long Way

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
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On December 5, 2005, the Blackhawks acquired Patrick Sharp from the Philadelphia Flyers. News of the trade could be found in small print near the tire ads of local sports sections. Since then, Sharp has evolved into one of Chicago’s most productive and popular athletes. He was a vital component of two Stanley Cup champions, and in February he earned a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Blackhawks Magazine sat down recently for a conversation with Sharp.

Well, how was it? You admitted you weren’t too sure about having Jonathan Toews as a roommate in Russia.

Yeah, I did say it would be a long two weeks, dealing with him, spending all that time with him. But in the end, it did make things more comfortable, having a friend and our captain with the Blackhawks around. I asked him a lot of questions because he’d been through the Olympics before in 2010. So it was helpful, although painful.

Why painful?

Jonathan has a lot of quirky habits. I feel for Patrick Kane, dealing with him the first couple years as a roommate in the pros. Jonathan is so focused on hockey, I don’t know, his side of the room was a little bit messy. Details like making your bed and picking up after yourself, Jonathan doesn’t do all that because he’s likely thinking about the next practice.

Otherwise, it was a positive experience?

Absolutely. It’s a lot of fun — especially winning — along with a lot of pressure. For Canada, the mission was gold, nothing else. And it’s a matter of timing as well as talent. Great players; [it was] a thrill for me to be included. But you have to stay healthy and play your best when it counts.

Do Americans understand what the Olympics mean to Canada?

The American fan base is strong, but in Canada, the whole country basically shuts down. It’s at the forefront, not only for the men’s team but also for the women’s team. When the women won their gold, we were all watching and going crazy. Our country takes hockey very, very seriously.

When you didn’t dress for the second game against Austria, Head Coach Mike Babcock said he hoped you wouldn’t ask him why because he didn’t have a good reason. You did everything right in the first game. He just had a loaded roster.

I read that comment. That’s just the way things are when you play for a team of that caliber. You’re not there just to score goals or have individual success. We had a group of heavy-minute guys from the National Hockey League, but we all came together to do what was best for the team. It was much like the situation we have with the Blackhawks.

How so?

We have a lot of top players, forwards and defensemen, who are capable of playing more minutes. But everybody is willing to sacrifice and accept lesser roles on occasion for the sake of winning.

Any family members with you in Russia?

Nope. Just myself and my roommate. My wife, Abby, stayed home with our two young daughters, Madelyn and Sadie, a three-month-old. We stayed in touch on the phone, and there was some face time with Skype. Tough part was that we had a long road trip with the Blackhawks before Russia, so I was pretty much gone for a month. I was thinking that when I finally got back, our girls would be ready for college.

When you look at the other stars on the Blackhawks, do you feel as though players like Toews and Kane were somehow “ordained” while you — a third-round draft choice with Philadelphia, 95th overall in 2001 — had to take a longer path toward where you are now?

It’s for other people to judge who’s a star. All the guys in the NHL have to work hard to get here and stay here. I developed later in my career, around my mid- to late-20s, and I feel like I’ve improved every year. When I started, the landscape was a bit different. It seemed like 10 years ago, veterans carried the load. Now, on all teams, it’s amazing how so many young kids step in and handle such a heavy workload. It used to be “pay your dues, earn your ice time.” But now there are so many kids in the league who are ready to make an impact.

If you aren’t going to call yourself a star, are you proud of what you achieved?

Very proud. Growing up, I was never labeled as the best player on a team or a future NHLer. In college, I was just focused on getting to the next level. To be on a team like this in Chicago, with what we’ve accomplished and what we still want to accomplish, it’s very gratifying. You can’t really sit back to reflect and hit the pause button. The league is so good — such competition every night. But it sinks in every once in a while. I was with my dad at a Bulls game a little while ago. People come up to you and give you high fives. It hits you, how lucky you are.

Do you remember who you were traded for?

Yup. Eric Meloche and I to Chicago for Matt Ellison and a third-round draft pick.

Do you realize that stands as one of the greatest trades in Blackhawks history? Or, for that matter, in Chicago sports history?

I take that as a huge compliment, but again, that’s for other people to judge. I know I’m glad it happened and [feel] very fortunate to be here.

You won the Calder Cup with Philadelphia’s American Hockey League farm team, the Phantoms, in 2005. When John Stevens, their coach, was asked about the trade, he said that the Flyers organization did not realize how much you love the game.

That was an interesting comment. I tried not to read too much into it. It’s kind of a compliment, I guess. But I always had a passion for the game. I cared about hockey as much then. I still go home and watch hockey. I love to talk hockey. I’m not only a player. I’m a fan.

I always had a passion for the game. I cared about hockey as much then. I still go home and watch hockey. I love to talk hockey. I’m not only a player. I’m a fan.Patrick Sharp

How did you evolve into a goal-scorer with the Blackhawks?

Philadelphia was near the top, and Chicago wasn’t when I came here. My career kind of shifted. I was thought of as an energy-type guy there, penalty-killer, third- or fourth-line center. I didn’t know I would be a regular here. I thought I could be and thought I could get the opportunity here. I owe a lot to Dale Tallon, who traded for me, and coaches like Trent Yawney and Denis Savard. Seems as if, even though I try to work at all aspects of my game, I’ve turned into more of a shooter here.

That’s your nickname, or one of them: “Shooter.” Where did that come from?

Duncan Keith. Dunc and Andy Hilbert, who was also on the Blackhawks when I got here. Don’t know if it was short for “Sharpshooter,” or what.

Away from the rink, you have exemplified the organizational mantra stressed by Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough about being fan-friendly and involved in the dressing up as a room-service waiter during the Convention and delivering meals.

I definitely feel that’s part of our job. I remember what it was like when I got here. There wasn’t the buzz about the Blackhawks then. Nobody was asking me to deliver meals. So I never take for granted how well our fans treat us, the support we have and the respect they show for the players and the franchise. It’s no secret where we live. If kids knock on our door, or see Abby and I out walking the dog, they want to talk hockey. Which is great. And you can see how many fans we have everywhere. We played a game in Colorado in March. Red sweaters everywhere in the crowd.

Celebrity role model for your outgoing personality?

As a kid, I looked up to Mike Modano. I met him when I finally made it to the NHL, and he was great to me. All of us were like that as kids, looking up to guys in the NHL. I admired the way Modano played and the way he carried himself. Then when you actually meet someone you admire, and he turns out to be such a good guy, it stays with you. There’s more to being a hockey player than goals and assists. Being good to people when they take time for you is part of the deal.

And if Modano had been a jerk, you would have been disappointed.

Exactly. Which is why, when there are times when I’m frustrated and wish I had a little more patience, I try to be as approachable as possible.

In one of your television commercials for BMO Harris Bank, you knock over a printer. Was that in the script?

Yes. I was supposed to skate at it hard, then give it a body check. I think they thought I was Brent Seabrook.

Of course, one aspect of your off-ice persona involves your looks. Every year it seems you are voted one of the sexiest or most handsome athletes on the planet. Surely you hear about that in the locker room.

All the time. I take a lot of heat about that. Particularly from Patrick Kane. But, you notice that the two of us recently did a magazine cover together, and he looked real pretty, I thought. So what does he say now? Kaner doesn’t let a lot go by when he has a chance to jab me. He’ll take whatever he can get. But I really like Kaner. People don’t see the side of him that we see. He really cares, and he’s more serious than he comes off. We have a special group here. After the lockout last season, we had a bunch of guys come up from Rockford. They contribute; they fit right in.

And then there’s the coach, Joel Quenneville.

Like I said, the one drawback of playing for Q is that you have your back to him on the bench. You don’t get to see him when he’s excited, waving his hands and all that.

You go to all the tough areas on the rink. You don’t play like a movie star. Do all these mentions about your looks affect how people view your game?

Probably, a little bit. There might be something to that. I can’t speak for fans and their opinion of me. I like to think I have a gritty edge to me, just like anybody in the NHL. I grew up wanting to be a hockey player. I didn’t grow up wanting to be on magazine covers. That hasn’t changed.

You went to college at Vermont. Their team name is the Catamounts. What is a catamount?

I asked that when I was there. A catamount is a mountain lion, I was told. That was good enough for me.

That’s where you met Abby?

She’s from Connecticut. I met her my freshman year. I grew up with an unbelievable family. Mom, Dad and my older brother, Chris. They taught me a lot. And Abby, besides being a great wife, is a great mother. She comes from a large family of 10 children. Five biological, five adopted. She helped raise kids even before the two of our own. I never thought about having a daughter. I grew up around guys and teams and hung out with my brother, so I thought I would have boys. Now, we have two little girls and it’s terrific. When I was gone in Russia, Madelyn, our two-year-old, kept asking where I was. Abby told her that Daddy would come home with a shiny new necklace — the gold medal.

Does Madelyn know what you do?

Somewhat. She can find me in the game programs and on TV. She does the goal celebration I do, pointing around like I do. We have a spiral staircase at home. When she gets to the 10th step, she goes, “Daddy’s hockey!”

You got No. 10 when you arrived in 2005?

I did. I wore No. 9 in Philadelphia, but that wasn’t going to happen in Chicago [because of] Bobby Hull. First game in the United Center, they said the attendance was about 10,000, but I don’t think so. Not quite. Anyway, I’m looking up in the stands and seeing a bunch of No. 10 jerseys on fans. I’m thinking, “Gee, that’s nice.” Then during the national anthem, I looked a little closer and realized all those No. 10s had “Amonte” on them. Tony Amonte. Heck of a player for the Blackhawks, and I played with him in Philadelphia. I knew I had a long way to go.

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