CHICAGO -- There aren’t many things in life that get better with age, and in professional sports it’s even less. But Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp is defying that notion and as he turns the calendar on another year he’s on pace for his best season.
“I think I’m getting better in all areas,” said Sharp, who turned 30 on Tuesday. "Offensively the numbers are going up. A lot of that is a product of a good team. I have no reason to slow down. I’m going to continue to work hard and stay healthy and keep getting better.”
Sharp is on pace for 84 points after scoring his 19th goal of the season in a 4-1 Hawks win over Columbus on Monday. That would eclipse his career high set last season when he had 71 points. The year before that he had 66.
“We’re seeing progress in his game,” Joel Quenneville said. “His overall game has been improved. Defensively there is an awareness. Harder in the puck areas, better stick.”
In 2008 Sharp played in the World Hockey Championships with current Hawks teammate Jamal Mayers.
“He’s evolved into one of the elite goal scorers in the game today,” Mayers said. “He’s still a great guy. He’s got that quiet confidence. He seems to always have a knack for scoring the key goal or the big goal. From the outside looking in I knew he was a leader and being a part of it I see it on a daily basis.”
Being a leader doesn’t mean being serious and mature all the time. Neither, necessarily, does turning 30.
“He’s 30 years old, he should start acting like it,” captain Jonathan Toews joked. “He’s still putting water cups in people’s helmets and stuff like that. Maybe that will stop now that he’s a father and 30. Somehow I doubt it.”
“That’s a good idea,” he said with a laugh. “I might have to do that when I’m talking here. I mess with [Toews] all the time. He’s gotten better at taking it over the years so it’s not so much fun anymore because he doesn’t bang his stick against the wall or yell or swear anymore.
“Consider the source. It’s Toews talking. I’m not going to change. I know I’m 30. I’m getting up there but I’m the same guy.”
A prankster off the ice, Sharp takes his game on the ice seriously. Known as the consummate sniper, he’s more of a complete player at 30 than he’s ever been. And he already knows he’ll need to take care of himself that much more with age.
“I know that taking care of the body is huge,” Sharp said. “We have a good trainer I work hard with in the offseason. In my 20’s I’ve learned that every year I work a little harder in the offseason. I notice it pays off in the regular season. I’d like to think I’m getting better if I continue to do that.”
Sharp was just starting his pro career with the Philadelphia Flyers when he turned 20. A decade later he’s a Stanley Cup winner, an All-Star Game MVP, a 30-goal scorer and a brand new dad to a baby daughter. Most of the good stuff happened recently.
“It’s a great year for him,” Mayers said. “He’s accomplished a lot. I think 30 is still really young, so I think he has a lot of great hockey in him ... Speaking as a father, his perspective will change. The bad days won’t seem as bad when he gets home. That’s just part of growing up.”
Sharp hasn’t had many bad days lately, but that wasn’t always the case as a third-round pick in 2001.
“I was up and down in the minor leagues,” Sharp said. “It’s been a long process, a long journey. I think I’ve gotten better every year in the 20s, hopefully there is a few years of improvement left.”
Hawks fans hope so as well considering he’s already one of the most popular players on the team. After the victory on Monday and with a late practice time on Tuesday, how did Sharp celebrate his big day? An all-night bash at a night club? A surprise party?
“Came home and everyone was asleep,” he said. “I thought about going in and waking the baby and getting her going a little bit. I watched the highlights on television and went to bed.”
Sounds about right for the old man.