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Sharp building reputation as key scorer for Hawks

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

Patrick Kane cracked a smile, shook his head and briefly stopped unwrapping tape from his hockey socks.
While doling out some plaudits for Chicago Blackhawks teammate and friend Patrick Sharp -- who recently was named to his first NHL All-Star team -- Kane suddenly changed gears. He then reverted to a common hockey locker-room cliché to explain why.
"I don't want to pump up his tires too much," Kane said, glancing across the room in Sharp's direction. "I don't want him to get too big a head or anything."
Funny he should say that about Sharp.
While Sharp may be one of the favorites of Hawks fans, there's not a lot of name recognition there outside of Chicago or his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont.
Despite tying for the team lead in the playoffs with 11 goals and currently leading the team in scoring with 25 goals and 44 points, Sharp often gets overshadowed by higher-profile teammates.
In fact, he wasn't even included on the League's official fan ballot for the 2011 All-Star Game presented by Discover, even though the Hawks had six players on it -- Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell -- the most of any team in the League.
As it turned out, Toews and Keith were voted into the game by fans, while Sharp and Kane learned of their inclusion in the 42-player pool for the 2011 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft Enabled by Cisco until Jan. 11, when the League announced the remaining 36 All-Stars, as well as 12 rookies for the Honda SuperSkills competition. If it irked Sharp to be left off the ballot, he never admitted it publicly.
He did, however, tell that not being included was a little extra motivation to have such a great individual season thus far.
"A little bit, yeah," he said. "I think it's fair to say that. But I've also got to be honest and say I don't have a problem with the ballot, either. You look at the six guys the Hawks had representing them and I can't step in front of any of those guys. It's just cool to say I'm an All-Star. I'm proud to be going."
It's a deserving honor for an unheralded star forward -- especially when you consider that Sharp has been the Hawks' top producer through the season's first half.
As he did in the playoffs last spring, Sharp has alternated between center and the wing, mostly due to a number of injuries to top-six forwards that forced Hawks coach Joel Quenneville to get creative with his lineups. Most feel Sharp is best on the wing, but he's proven solid enough in the middle -- not to mention being dangerous manning the point on the power play.
His biggest blemish thus far is a plus/minus rating that's hung below zero almost all season, and currently is at minus-7, but even that's trending toward the positive -- he's a plus-4 in his last three games. Otherwise, Sharp is on track for a career season. He is on pace for career highs in goals (45) and points (82), and his 25 goals equal as many as he scored all of last season.
"Anytime you're producing maybe third or fourth in the League, over a point a game, that's a great contribution no matter who we're looking at," said Quenneville, who will coach one of the All-Star teams along with assistant Mike Haviland. "This year he definitely elevated that part of his game and the consistency part of his game has been there, too. He's very deserving (of being an All-Star). Game in and game out he's been getting it done."
Put another way, any tire-pumping Sharp gets is well-earned.
"The goals he's scored have all been pretty big," said Kane. "He's got a lot of game-winners. It seems like he's just taken off in his career."
If you want to be exact, Sharp has scored 6 game-winning goals this season, tying him for the League lead with Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos and Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Dustin Byfuglien.
Sharp also is tied for third in the League in power-play goals (10) and is tied for eighth in power-play scoring (20 points).
It does seem like Sharp's career has gotten a major boost in the past year, which also saw him get married last summer. He credits his great playoff success for a lot of it, but also knows he's steadily improved since breaking into the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2002-03 season.
"I got off to a little bit of a slow start to my career," said Sharp, who shuffled between the Flyers and Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League before being dealt to Chicago on Dec. 5, 2005. "I didn't start fast, like the kids who are 18, 19 and 20 do now. I've just gotten better and better every year."
The stats back him up. Since joining the Hawks, Sharp's goal and point totals have climbed steadily, with this being his fifth straight season scoring more than 20 goals. Just recently has it reached the point where he could even be considered an All-Star.
Yet, this season he seemed like a no-brainer selection regardless of the ballot snub.
"It's pretty special, personally," Sharp said of becoming an All-Star. "It's an individual accomplishment. It doesn't quite match up to the Stanley Cup last June, but I'm very honored to be going. There's a ton of good players who should be going and some aren't, so I feel very humbled to be selected."
Just don't tell Kane that last part. He might not know when to stop laughing.

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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