If you ask any NHL player, they’ll be more than happy to tell you who their favorite hockey player was as a kid. For some, it’s Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, and for others, it’s Steve Yzerman or Martin Brodeur.
But for Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad, his childhood hockey idol was Jaromir Jagr.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Saad started playing hockey at the age of two and loved watching Jagr play. Saad said making his Honda NHL All-Star Game debut against Jagr, the Atlantic Division team’s captain, will be a special moment in his career.
“I think it’s special,” Saad said. “I know when I first came into the league playing against him, it’s almost breathtaking getting out there as a young kid and playing against a guy of that stature.”
At age 43, Jagr is still going strong and representing the Florida Panthers at the All-Star Game, currently in the midst of his 22nd NHL season. To put that into perspective, Jagr has been playing in the NHL for as nearly many years as Saad has been alive. Both Saad and Jagr are two-time Stanley Cup champions.
“Going to the All-Star Game, it’s a little more relaxed,” Saad said. “(There will be) more interaction, (I’ll) get to talk to him a little bit and meet him. It’s really special.”
In this year’s revamped format, the All-Star Game will feature a tournament-style play with teams icing units of three skaters and a goaltender.
Four teams, made up from players within the NHL’s four divisions (Central, Pacific, Metropolitan, Atlantic), will play two semifinal games, lasting 20 minutes each, with the winners competing in the championship game.
The semifinal games, which will be played on Sunday, are set: Central vs. Pacific and Atlantic vs. Metropolitan. Saad is one of six forwards on the Metro team’s roster, and will be competing against Jagr’s Atlantic team for a chance to play in the championship game.
Saad has always had, among many goals he set for himself in his career, the goal of being named an All-Star.
“I know as a kid, watching the games and even the last few years seeing guys from Chicago going, it’s always something I wanted to do and always something I want to strive to do,” Saad said. “
“You never know when you’re going to get it again, so to go and see some top players from around the world and interact with them and meet them is going to be a lot of fun.”