Brandon Saad (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The maturing power forward for the Blackhawks still has a lot of family in the war-torn nation and his roots are important to him. In fact, he can thank his father for the American dream the left winger is now living.
The Chicago Blackhawks have been built so well that it's sometimes tough for young kids to crack the roster. But one player who has made a big impression over the past few years is left winger Brandon Saad, who already has a Stanley Cup to his name and at 22, still has room to grow into a dominant player in the NHL.
“You don't see many guys that can skate better than him, first off,” said teammate Kris Versteeg. “And the way he can skate at full speed and handle the puck is pretty special. For him to do this at a young age is great and he'll just keep learning and getting better. The sky's the limit.”
And Saad has some great veteran pilots to help him navigate the pro ranks. Thanks to his powerful build and ability to handle the puck, there's no reason he can't join the upper echelon of forwards in the NHL one day, where older Hawks such as Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa – his current linemates - currently reside.
“Those are guys I look up to,” Saad said. “There are a lot of skilled guys in the league, but they play both ends of the ice and that's something I'm looking forward to doing. To be on the same team and see them every day really helps.”
Consistency is still an issue with Saad, but he's getting better. The left winger is tied for fourth in Chicago scoring with Hossa, both contributing 19 points in the first 27 games. Saad isn't hidden by the Hawks and the longest he has gone without a point this season is four games.
But the on-ice stuff is pretty well-known at this point. What might not be is how important family has been to Saad through the years. Born in Pittsburgh, he was a phenomenal player as a teen, but delayed an invitation from Team USA's National Team Development Program in Michigan for a year to play for the United States League's Mahoning Valley Phantoms, closer to home. Brandon and older brother George, who went on to play for Penn State, would commute from Pittsburgh to Youngstown, Ohio (the team is now called the Youngstown Phantoms), about 50 minutes away.
None of that would have been possible had their father, George Saad Sr., not come over from Syria when he was 18. The patriarch earned a degree at Columbia University in New York City before continuing his education at the University of Pittsburgh, where he met his wife Sandra and settled down. But the Saads still have a lot of family in Syria, the Middle Eastern nation that has been torn apart by a civil war stoked by the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad. Needless to say, the ongoing strife there means plenty of communication with the American Saads, particularly George Sr.
“He keeps in touch with them over Skype and gets to talk to them quite a bit, pretty much every day,” Saad said. “I don't talk to them as much, but I hear through him what's going on. Fortunately everyone from his family is safe; they're staying away from that stuff.”
It certainly puts things in perspective, especially in a North American culture where we often refer to sports as “war.” Saad has a long, burgeoning career ahead of him and it's obvious he'll never forget the family that helped him forge that path.