The following feature appeared in the April 2013 issue of Blackhawks Magazine. Pick up the newest issue of the magazine at the next Blackhawks home game, or by calling the Blackhawks Store at (800) GO-HAWKS.
Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saadwere selected by the Blackhawks in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Now both youngsters have joined a core roster in Chicago, contributing to the team’s success. Team Historian Bob Verdi checks in with the “Man-Child” and the “Mutt” to discuss their nicknames, friendship and more.
Andrew, you’re 21, and Brandon, you’re 20. Even the veterans on the Blackhawks are excited about this team. What’s it like for a couple kids like you playing in Chicago?
Andrew Shaw: I came here in January a year ago and it’s been amazing. I live with my girlfriend downtown; we go to restaurants and people are really into hockey. I recently went to buy a suit and a couple kids recognized me. That puts a smile on my face. Growing up in Canada, the way people love hockey there, it’s like that here.
Brandon Saad: I live by myself. Unless I’m out for dinner with a group of our guys, which happens pretty often when we’re in town, I don’t get noticed very much.
Shaw: Oh, I think you’re being modest. Look at this guy. Young, single, strong. He’s probably got the women hanging from him.
Well, you guys certainly know each other. In this era of single rooms on the road, you are still roommates?
Shaw: We get along great. But we are opposites. Brandon has great speed on the ice, but off the ice, he doesn’t move as fast.
Saad: Yeah, I’m more laid-back. If this guy here starts running around too hyper, I just tell him to take his medicine.
Shaw: I have to get in and out of the bathroom fast. This guy takes his time there. Stands at the mirror, doing his hair. I’m guessing he spends as much time in front of the mirror as my linemate, Viktor Stalberg.
Saad: You know that’s not true. I wake up, wash my face, brush my teeth, and then probably put a hat on. I don’t spend time on my hair.
Andrew, you came up the hard way.
Shaw: I got cut from teams as a kid, got passed over in the draft a couple times and didn’t get picked until the fifth round the third time. I wondered whether I might have to join my dad in his contracting business back in Belleville, Ontario. But I kept at it, got signed to a contract with Rockford at the beginning of [last season], and four hours after I signed an NHL contract, I was called up to Chicago.
Brandon, how did you grab the hockey bug while growing up in Pittsburgh?
Saad: I played all sports, but first skated when I was maybe 2 and a half and fell in love with it. I watched the Pens with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. I also watched Marian Hossa there, and now I am on the same team with him. There was big hockey interest in Pittsburgh, especially when they won their Stanley Cups, and youth programs got better and better. I was pretty athletic, but hockey was it for me.
Shaw: Of course he’s athletic. Look at him. He’s 20 and he’s got a mature body. Plus, he does things that are so mature. On the plane, he will take the napkin, stick it in his collar and let it hang down to protect his shirt while he eats. How many 20-year-old kids do that? That’s why they call him “Man-Child.”
Saad: Why would you want to spill something on your shirt if you don’t have to?
Wait. How did “Man-Child” start?
Saad: Sharpie. Patrick Sharp, I think, started it, and it’s kind of stuck.
Shaw: And I’m the “Mutt.” Either that or “Gerbil.” But “Mutt” seems to have lasted longest. “Man-Child” and the “Mutt” here.
Brandon…I mean, “Man-Child,” you’ve come a long way in a short time.
Saad: Yeah, I started last season with the Blackhawks and got sent down after two games. But even that helped me feel more comfortable now. Before, I was in Saginaw of the Ontario League with Greg Gilbert as my coach. He played with the Blackhawks and he won Stanley Cups with both New York teams. He was a shutdown forward when he played, and he is very good as a coach. Taught me a lot about the two-way game. Now I’m skating with Jonathan Toews and Hossa, two unbelievable players.
Brandon, do you find yourself ever in awe of Toews and Hossa to the point that you become a spectator, not a linemate?
Saad: I try not to be. They make me better, I know that.
Shaw: I watch them, I know that. Brandon here, he’s so strong with the puck, going wide, skating strong and fast.
Brandon, you were big when you were little?
Saad: I was probably 6-foot-2 in 10th grade.
Shaw: I’m not there yet, and I’ve been out of 10th grade for a while. But I am 180 pounds, even if I don’t look it. In fact, I got to 190 and was too slow, so I cut some weight down in Rockford during the lockout.
Saad: When people see him, they’re surprised he isn’t bigger because he plays so big, throwing his weight around. Shawzy has an edge to him. I could bring him to Pittsburgh and he would fit right in. It’s a blue-collar town. He’s a blue-collar guy.
Andrew, in a half-season with the Blackhawks last year, you scored 12 goals, got a bunch of assists and hits. Is that why you became an instant crowd favorite?
Shaw: Fans have been great to me. I’m best when I play with a little swagger, stick my nose into things. I try to communicate with fans through Twitter, Facebook, social media. Not every day.
Saad: I got nothing. I tried Twitter and shut it down. I’m more private. I stay off the map.
Shaw: The manly thing to do. But he chirps once in a while when he gets around people he’s comfortable with. And he talks in the room.
Andrew, you’ve scored some big goals, like the recent shootout winner against Cory Schneider of the Vancouver Canucks. You came in on him like you were double-parked.
Shaw: I was just hoping I wouldn’t fall down. I have a lot of energy. That’s just me. I never get tired.
You guys ever get tired of being so popular in Chicago?
Shaw: We feed off the fans at the United Center. We really do. I mean, if the building was empty and we played a game, we would play just as hard. But it wouldn’t be the same. It’s our job, but it wouldn’t be the same.
Saad: And the national anthem. We get as pumped as the fans when we hear it. I could hear it 100 times and still get the same chills as when I heard it the first time. Not only our anthem. Same with “O, Canada.”
During that record streak to start this season, were you players as calm about it as you projected?
Saad: We were confident that we could win every time we went out there. But we have great leadership. If anybody walked around our room thinking or acting too cocky, it wouldn’t have lasted very long, if it even started. We don’t pat ourselves on the back. We just aren’t that way.
But are you tough enough? That’s one theory of hockey experts, that the Blackhawks aren’t tough enough.
Saad: I don’t think you could do what we did during the first half of the season without being tough. We won some tough games during that streak to keep it going, and tough doesn’t necessarily mean fighting. You have to be mentally tough and we have plenty of that. And when I said we don’t pat ourselves on the back, I mean we look out for each other and stick up for one another.
Shaw: We’re plenty tough, physically, and like “Man-Child” said, tough mentally. I mean, there were nights during our streak that the bodies weren’t there. But the mind was. You will yourself to go harder. That’s more important, I think, than getting into a bunch of scrums and throwing punches.
Brandon, with your size, you could be intimidating.
Saad: Never have fought. I’ve talked to Daniel Carcillo about it, just in case. You want to be able to protect yourself, because you never know.
Shaw: Can you imagine if “Man-Child” did get into a fight? It might take two people to bring him down. And to think—he’s still growing.
Andrew, by making it to the NHL, have you gotten the last laugh?
Shaw: Well, as I said, I got cut from a few teams. And before that, I was in school and not very good at it. I wasn’t made to sit behind a desk. There were four kids in our family, and I was the one who didn’t do homework. A few teachers of mine thought I would never amount to anything.
And Brandon, your family must be extremely proud of you.
Saad: I’m as proud of my parents as they are of me. My dad, George, came over from Syria when he was 18. No money, alone, didn’t speak English. He went to Columbia University, got his degree, then went on to the University of Pittsburgh. He worked hard to build a career, and he is very good in his profession — industrial engineering, buying and selling commercial real estate. It was expensive, attending an Ivy League school, but he paid it all off. He's big on education. He left family in Syria, but it’s difficult now, to get in or out of there. He’s made a great life for his family through hard work. He's my idol.
Given his feeling about education, how he did respond when you told him you wanted to be a hockey player instead of attending college?
Saad: He always has encouraged me. He pursued his dream, which was to come to the United States and start a new life. My thought was that if the hockey thing doesn’t work out, I can always get an education. He was behind me all the way, and still is. And my mom, Sandra, has made a lot of the sacrifices most hockey moms make for their sons. We are a very close family. Dad’s got a couple sisters in the States, so when he’s on the phone with them, they speak Arabic. It’s not a lot different than in our locker room, where every once in a while our Swedish guys will talk in Swedish.
Have your parents seen you play with the Blackhawks?
Saad: They have, and it’s great to have them around. I have a brother, George, who is a senior at Penn State. He plays hockey with Eddie Olczyk’s son, Tommy.
What does "Mutt" think of all this?
Shaw: He’s amazing, “Man-Child” is. With an amazing story to tell, and he’s only 20, even though he looks a lot older. What’s he going to look like at 30 if he’s so mature now? Gray hair? Attention, women of Chicago: “Man-Child” is single.
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