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Family support made Olympic call sweeter for Sharp

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Patrick Sharp cracked a smile Friday morning when asked about the first of his two hat tricks this season, which occurred on his 32nd birthday.

It happened Dec. 27 during a 7-2 victory for Sharp's Chicago Blackhawks, but the reason for his smile was more about who watched it live. Along with his wife, Abby, and two young daughters, Sharp's parents were at United Center to see it.

After an 11-hour ordeal at Calgary International Airport, they eventually made it to Chicago just in time to watch their son score three goals, make a great defensive play that led to another and garner the game's first star recognition.

"They were flying in after Christmas to Chicago and they got all messed up in the Calgary airport, so they sacrificed a lot to be there for my birthday," Sharp said. "I don't really score too often when my parents are in the building, for whatever reason, but that game I got the quick hat trick and it was right in front of them, right in front of where their seats were. It was pretty cool."

Sharp even chuckled about the "scolding" his father, Ian, gave him afterward.

"[My dad] got mad at me for acknowledging him in the post-game first-star interview," Sharp said. "I pointed up to him and had the crowd cheer for him and he didn't like that attention. I think he'd probably prefer to kind of stay in the background."

It's just that the Sharps have been in the foreground of their sons' hockey careers and lives, which is why the phone call Patrick got from Hockey Canada the morning of Jan. 7 was so special.

After returning a voicemail left by St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Wilson, informing him that he'd be part of the Canadian team at the 2014 Sochi Games, Sharp knew exactly who to call.

"It was my dad," he said. "I called him right away and he was excited. He was kind of nervous. He kind of felt that I should be there and I deserved to be there, but our whole lives we've both seen me get left off some teams and all-star games and things like that, so we weren't planning on anything."

That didn't happen this time, thanks to Sharp's persistent success.

After coming into this season in great shape, winning the team's annual training camp fitness contest, Sharp shook off a slow statistical start to put up some impressive numbers. Heading into a game Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks (8 p.m. ET, NHLN) at United Center, he has 25 goals, 24 assists and a plus-21 rating in 49 games.

He's also anchoring the left side of the Blackhawks' talent-laden top line, which includes captain Jonathan Toews at center and two-way threat Marian Hossa on the right wing.

Sharp started the season on the second line, scoring one goal and five points in the Blackhawks' first 11 games. After making the Canadian roster, he now admits the thought of making his country's final cut weighed on his mind initially.

"A little bit," Sharp said. "It probably had a lot to do with my slow start, to be honest with you. I felt that I played well in those first [11] games and created a lot of stuff offensively, but I was hitting posts and maybe squeezing the stick too hard. Once I kind of put the individual stuff out of my mind and focused on playing hockey to help the Hawks win … that's when things started to go well."

It coincided with his promotion to the top line, which overcame some early bumps to become one of the NHL's most dangerous units. They have a combined rating of plus-66 and can dominate games for long stretches.

"I wouldn't say it really clicked right off the hop," Toews said. "We had some tough times where we were struggling and it didn't seem to matter what we did, the puck ended up in the back of our net and not in the opponents' net. I think [now] we know on a daily basis that we've got to show up to work."

Toews was considered a lock to make the Canadian team, after winning a gold medal with Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Games. Sharp's bid for Olympic inclusion wasn't so assumed. Toews, however, stumped for Sharp to make it after that first hat trick and hasn't cut off the compliments.

The fact Sharp worked his way into a top role with the Blackhawks, after being selected by the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 95 in the 2001 NHL Draft, impresses Toews (taken third by Chicago in 2006).

"A lot of people thought of him and maybe didn't respect the skill and ability he really has," Toews said. "In the last five or six years I've been on this team, more and more I've seen him try to prove himself every single year. I like to bug him and say he's always got a chip on his shoulder, but I think that's a great thing. He's motivated to get better, and to see him finally get to that level, representing Team Canada at the Olympics, is pretty amazing. He definitely deserves it."

The Blackhawks' lone American representative, Patrick Kane, agreed.

"[I'm] happy for him that he made the team, because it seems like it was something he wanted bad," Kane said. "You know how much he cares about the game and the history of the game and being part of that team."

Kane then shared a tidbit he'd heard recently from a former coach of Sharp's, back when he was still in the Flyers organization.

"I heard a comment the other day from [former Flyers coach] John Stevens, when they had him in Philly, and somebody asked him, 'Did you know what you had in Patrick Sharp when you let him go?'" Kane said. "He said, 'Yeah, kind of, but we didn't realize how much he loves the game.' I think that kind of says certain things about Sharpie. He cares about the game and he wants to do well and you know that."

That's what made the call home on Jan. 7 so special.

Sharp dialed back home to Thunder Bay, Ontario, where his parents still reside and where he and his brother once worked summer jobs at Robin's Donuts, the Canadian coffee-shop chain his dad co-founded.

After it became clear Patrick cared more about serving up assists than coffee, Ian never tried to downplay his son's NHL dreams, just in case he didn't make it. His son hasn't forgotten.

"When you get those acknowledgments on the individual level, it feels good, but you start thinking about the people that helped you get to that point in your life," Sharp said. "I know my mom and dad did a lot for my brother [Chris] and I, in our hockey careers, and when you're getting into an Olympic team, which is a pretty big deal [in Canada], I know they're excited and proud of me. That makes me feel pretty good."

Pulling on the Canadian jersey in Russia will feel just as good.

In terms of his resume, making the Canadian Olympic roster completes the circle for Sharp. He's won the Stanley Cup twice, leading the Blackhawks in goals each time. He's made it to the NHL All-Star Game (2011) and won MVP honors.

Soon he'll be playing in the Olympics, enjoying the spoils of his own hard work and all the support he got along the way, from his junior teams to the University of Vermont to the NHL.

"It took me until me my late 20s to kind of get on the map [in the NHL] and get some recognition at an individual level, but that's why it felt so good to call my dad and tell him I made Team Canada," Sharp said. "He knows me better than anybody and he probably felt that I was undervalued. This was an opportunity [for him] to say that I made it."

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