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Family matters to Blue Jackets' Saad

Five of father's siblings safe in U.S. after escape from war-torn Syria

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Brandon Saad is skilled at skating, backhand shots and putting the puck in the net.

He also knows family and their well-being is the most important thing in his life, and means more than winning the Stanley Cup twice.

The Columbus Blue Jackets left wing sleeps better knowing his father, George, has been able to bring several of their relatives from war-torn Syria to the United States in the past few years.

"We've got most of them over here," Brandon Saad said. "That's a good thing. He's get one sister over there that's safe.  

"Pretty much, I've focused on hockey. When you hear things are going well, you've got a clear mind."

Video: FLA@CBJ: Saad buries rebound, puts Jackets on top

Tuesday marked the fifth year of civil war in Syria. The United Nations estimates more than 250,000 people have died there and at least 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid. The influx of millions of Syrian refugees has created a crisis throughout Europe.

The Saads sponsored five of his father's siblings in order to bring them into the U.S., mostly in the Pittsburgh area, with a sister still living in a Syrian town about 45 minutes from the capital, Damascus.

"In the past I didn't want to get too in depth and I still really don't," Saad said, "but more questions have been coming and more talks have been coming. Now that most of them are over here and most of them are safe, I think if it's good for [people] to hear the story, then that's great.

"At the same time, people try to get into the politics aspect of it. It's not something I follow too much. I'm just here to play hockey and be a hockey player. I'm just happy to have family here."

But if talking about his family can bring awareness to the humanitarian efforts needed, then score another one for Saad.

Video: NJD@CBJ: Saad fires a goal by Schneider in the 1st

"If that helps, that's great," he said. "There's always two sides to every story, but the way my family is and the culture and how they act, they're all great people. It's nice to have them over here."

George Saad came to the U.S. when he was 18 and earned degrees from Columbia and the University of Pittsburgh. He settled in Gibsonia, Pa., north of Pittsburgh, where Brandon and his older brother, George Jr., played hockey.

Brandon, 23, won the Stanley Cup twice, with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, before being traded to Columbus last June 30. He signed a six-year, $36 million contract a week later, and is tied with Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner for the Blue Jackets' goal lead with 24.

Saad said he's fortunate he has the resources to help his relatives relocate.

"That's helped the process," he said, "but at the same time, my dad's been successful with what he's done with working, and has been trying to get them over here quite a bit since he's been here.

Video: OTT@CBJ: Saad beats Anderson in the 3rd period

"They decided now was the time to give up what they worked for and come over here and start a new life. He was more a part of the process than I was. I'm there if they need me."

Saad said he's in awe of what his relatives have done in leaving Syria, a country he visited once when he was a year old.

"It's just the story of them coming over and leaving everything that you worked for and kind of have to start fresh," he said. "The biggest thing is safety. At the end of the day, you have to leave it all behind. It's definitely tough for them, but to see them overcome that and work toward that goal is impressive."

Most of the elders that have come from Syria don't speak much English, but the younger family members do.

Yet, some words such as slap shot, puck and forecheck are hard to translate.

"That's the funny thing," he said. "They came over and they didn't know too much about hockey. I know my dad talked to them through Skype and Facebook and all that stuff.

"Then they hear about me and get to meet me [and] they actually get more interested in the game. It's pretty funny to see how much they follow me now."

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