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Unexpected Reunion

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
The hockey world is a small one.

So while Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck never actually played on the same team while growing up playing hockey in the Pittsburgh developmental system, they did know of each other.

But they certainly never expected to end up on the same junior team – the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League, based out of Saginaw, Mich. – much less the same line for the entire season.

Nor did the two Pennsylvania natives – Saad is from Gibsonia, Pa.; Trocheck is from Upper St. Clair – expect to be Saginaw’s top-two ranked prospects for this summer’s NHL Entry Draft in a prestigious league known for producing top-end talent.

Saad and Trocheck were linemates for the entire 2010-11 campaign with Saginaw. (Photo courtesy Terry Wilson Photography) 
Saad, 18, is ranked No. 19 among North American skaters – the highest of all five Pittsburgh-area prospects listed on the NHL Central Scouting Rankings – while Trocheck, 17, is ranked No. 42 among North American skaters.

“I think it’s awesome, the fact that we’re both from Pittsburgh,” Trocheck said. “And of all the places to have two successful prospects (from Pittsburgh) on the same team, it’s just pretty crazy because you’d just never expect it, especially in the Ontario Hockey League, where you’ve got guys from Canada being their top players. … It’s funny how both of us have reunited.”

“Pittsburgh has come up to be a good area for hockey and for draft picks over the years,” Saad said. “For us two to end up in the same area, it’s a pretty special moment and a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Saad began his hockey career with the Butler Valley Dawgs and the Junior Amateur Penguins before joining the Pittsburgh Hornets organization. During his freshman year of high school – his last season with the Hornets – he led Pine Richland to a Penguins Cup championship at Mellon Arena in 2008.

The 6-foot-2, 206-pound left winger then spent his sophomore year with the Mahoning Valley (now Youngstown) Phantoms of the United States Hockey League before moving to Ann Arbor, Mich., his junior year to play for the U.S. National Deam Development Program, also of the USHL. Saad signed with the Spirit last June.

Saad is ranked No. 19 among North American skaters for this summer's NHL Entry Draft, while Trocheck is ranked No. 42. (Photo courtesy Terry Wilson Photography)
Trocheck spent time with the South Hills Panthers, the Pittsburgh Hornets and the Pittsburgh Predators before moving to Michigan at age 13 to play for the Little Caesars organization. The 5-foot-11, 178-pound center spent the last two seasons with the Spirit, meaning he had already been in Saginaw for a full year prior to Saad’s arrival.

Trocheck immediately reached out to Saad last summer upon hearing his fellow Pennsylvania native was heading to Michigan in hopes of making the adjustment as smooth as possible.

“I gave him a call and texted him a couple of times to make him a little bit more comfortable for whenever he came to the team,” Trocheck said. “I introduced him to all the guys and tried to make it a little easier on him.”

That Steel City connection certainly helped Saad make the adjustment to a new team in a new league hundreds of miles from home (371, to be exact).

“It was definitely nice first coming in to have a guy there from the same area who grew up around the same things,” Saad said. “It was nice to come in with him being here a year already. He got to show me the ropes and we developed a chemistry off the ice as well as on the ice, so it was a good relationship.”

While their off-ice friendship may not have been the reason Spirit head coach Todd Watson paired Saad and Trocheck on the same line in Saginaw’s season opener, it’s what spurred their lasting success.

“We’ve become good friends off the ice, so there’s no tension and no nervousness when we’re out there on the ice,” Trocheck said. “We just kind of flow with each other and we know each other so well that it’s easy to play with each other.”

Both Saad and Trocheck grew up playing hockey in the Pittsburgh area and are both products of the Pittsburgh Hornets organization. (Photo courtesy Terry Wilson Photography)
Saad agreed, saying “When you’re playing with teammates and linemates, it’s definitely good to be close off the ice so we had that already.

“It definitely helped out playing with him. We just fit well together through the systems that we run here and it just worked out well, ironically.”

Saad finished the season with 55 points (27G-28A) through 59 games while Trocheck racked up 62 points (26G-36A) through 68 games. Each player had impressive playoff runs, netting 12 points each through 12 games in Saginaw's journey to the OHL semifinals, where they fell in six games to the Windsor Spitfires.

Both players are among the 102 best draft-eligible prospects that have been invited to Toronto for the 2011 NHL Scouting Combine at the end of the month.

They’ve been hard at work preparing for the event, which features fitness testing and interviews with personnel from all 30 NHL teams, and they both hope to continue representing their Pittsburgh roots to the best of their ability – like they did all last season in Saginaw.
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