Brandon Saad (via Columbus Blue Jackets/Twitter)
The newest Blue Jacket can put ‘Captain Serious’ to shame. Meanwhile, Brandon Saad’s father, George Saad Sr., is just thankful to live in the U.S. To see his son succeed only adds to the family’s blessings.Long before he was a man-child in the NHL, Brandon Saad was a 15-year-old kid who was terrorizing goalies in youth hockey in Pittsburgh, dreaming of one day playing in the same league as his heroes, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bob Mainhardt recalls sitting in the Saad family’s kitchen trying to get George Saad’s two sons, George Jr. and Brandon, to commit to playing for his junior team. Mainhardt remembers George Sr. telling him point blank that if his two sons decided to commit to playing for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American League, Brandon would be his leading scorer. Mainhardt thought highly of Saad, but he also had a veteran-laden team that was a contender for the national championship. He admired the father’s chutzpah but didn’t put much faith in the prognostications of a proud hockey dad. After all, Brandon would still be 15 when the season started, and he’d be playing with and against players as old as 20. “Well, if he had been a gambling man,” Mainhardt said of the senior Saad, “he should have put money on that one. Brandon was the best pro prospect I had ever seen. I had 18 kids from that team get Div. I scholarships, and we made the national semifinals. He was our best player.”
Brandon committed to the Phantoms, and that season he led the team with 29 goals and finished second in points, one behind an 18-year-old teammate who played 10 more games than he did. It was then Brandon proved he could hang with the biggest boys, mostly because he was often the biggest of them. Not much has changed now that he’s in the NHL, where his teammates nicknamed him ‘Man-Child’ in his rookie year, a moniker that has stuck.Now 22, Brandon is about to enter the NHL’s manhood in the form of a financial rite of passage. After three years in the league, he’s cashed in on his potential and performance after his entry-level contract expired and he inked a six-year, $36-million contract with the Blue Jackets after he was dealt to Columbus after winning the Stanley Cup with Chicago. Saad will soon be a rich man, far richer than his father dreamed his children would be when he came from Syria to get an engineering degree in 1978, first at Columbia University, then the University of Pittsburgh. “I’ve been living the American dream since the minute I got to this country,” said George Sr., an industrial engineer and property developer in Pittsburgh. “I didn’t have to wait for my son to live the American dream. You come to this country with dreams and you try as much as you can, as hard as you can, to reach your dreams. And this country – God bless America – it gives you the opportunity to excel and achieve these dreams because there are no restrictions when you’re a free thinker.” That is also the case if you have a big body that can get to the net and a pretty sick set of mitts for when you get there, which Brandon used to score the winner in Game 4 of the final, his eighth goal of the post-season. Brandon is a unique talent, one who combines a large presence with a certain amount of skill. The ‘Man-Child’ moniker isn’t just in deference to his size (6-foot-1, 204 pounds). There are times when he makes Jonathan ‘Captain Serious’ Toews look like Jerry Lewis. Brandon has always been all business and focused, something his family has noticed since he was a child. If he seems uncomfortable talking about himself, that’s because he is. His father? Well, that’s another story. He was born in a small town outside of Damascus and has been keeping in touch with his many relatives in the war-torn country. “I’ve brought most of my family to the United States,” George Sr. said. “There’s still a few of them coming, and they’re due in the next couple of months. With what has happened in that country and how many people have been killed…it’s a big relief.” When they arrive, they’ll be able to pursue the American dream, just like George and his son Brandon are doing right now. This is an edited version of a feature that appears in the 2014-15 Season Commerative edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.