Patrick Sharp finally getting noticed
The morning of Jan. 7 won't soon be forgotten for Patrick Sharp.
Anxiously awaiting to hear if he had made Team Canada, the Chicago Blackhawks star forward wasn't quite sure how to go about it, but you better believe his phone was on.
"I didn't know how it was all going to play out," Sharp told ESPN.com Friday. "I knew the announcement was going to be around 10 a.m. Chicago time. I was getting ready to go to practice. I was all over the Internet to see if anything had leaked yet. I remember in 2010 the guys had got a call right before the announcement. So I had my phone on me all night long and all morning. I jumped in the shower before heading out to practice and as I was getting out of the shower I saw my phone lighting up. I had just missed a call from Doug Armstong."
The St. Louis Blues general manager is also part of Team Canada's management committee. Thing is, they were also calling guys who didn't make it.
"I quickly checked the voicemail to make sure it was good news," Sharp said. "Once I heard what I needed to hear I called him right back. We had a good talk. I was excited, it was a relief, and I was jumping around the house."
The next call was to Pops.
"I called my dad right away because I knew how happy he would be," Sharp said. "He probably was more nervous than I was in the month leading up to it. He probably knows me more than any other person as a hockey player and as a person. He's seen me left off a lot of things, and I know how proud he was of me making it. So I made sure to call him first."
No big deal, this Olympic thing, right?
But if you know the story of Patrick Sharp, you also understand that after being overlooked so many times in his career as he climbed his way up the hockey food chain, Team Canada's endorsement was a long time coming and meant a lot. And it was certainly well-deserved for a two-time Stanley Cup champion who has played his best hockey when the games and the stakes were the biggest.
He's been clutch and productive, and it didn't go unnoticed.
Armstrong, for one, has had a front row seat as the GM of the rival Blues, something he could share within the Team Canada brain trust.
"Over the last four years, he's probably gone under the radar screen, but he's been an important player on a championship team," Armstrong told ESPN.com regarding Sharp. "You look at Chicago and they come at you in waves and he's part of that wave. He might not get the notoriety of some of the players like [Marian] Hossa, [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews, but he's every bit their equal as far as his production for the Hawks and his role on a winning team."
And yet, when Sharp left Calgary after the Canadian Olympic camp wrapped up in August, he knew he needed to have a very strong start to this season to clinch his spot on Team Canada -- the hardest squad in the world to make. You're talking about a team that left off the likes of Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, James Neal, Joe Thornton and Brent Seabrook, among many others.
"It was definitely in the back of my mind," Sharp said of approaching the season with Team Canada's decision weighing on him. "From a day-to-day basis, it wasn't something that I was thinking about, I was just focusing on playing for the Hawks and really in my situation, [Hawks coach] Joel [Quenneville] gave me an opportunity to play on the top line which I haven't done for Joel for a long time and play heavier minutes. I was focusing on trying to show Joel that I'm worth playing those first-line minutes and capable of doing it. That was my main focus. But I'm not going to lie, obviously playing for Team Canada was an individual goal of mine all the way back from 2010. I remember being jealous of Jonathan [Toews] and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook going over to Vancouver and winning an Olympic gold medal. I really wanted to be part of that."
Since those Olympics, Sharp was a key cog on two Stanley Cup championship runs and has improved his level of play in doing so.
"So I thought this year I'd be worthy of at least being considered for the Olympic team and I knew I needed to have a big start to the season to have that recognition," Sharp said. "For sure, I'm very excited and can't wait to go over and play."
Sharp is lighting it up this season with 52 points (26-26) in 53 games and is easily on pace to eclipse his previous career high of 71 points (34-37) set in 2010-11.
He's worked hard to continue to improve himself as a player.
"Something that's helped me this year is my speed, I've improved my first step," Sharp said. "I feel like I can move quicker out there than I ever have."
Which is no small detail given that Team Canada put great onus on speed and quickness in selecting its roster because of the larger international ice surface in Sochi.
Another plus for Sharp is his versatility, a player who can play all three forward positions with ease, which may come in handy for Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock, who in 2010 put his forward lines in the blender a few times before finding what he wanted en route to gold.
"Yes, Patrick certainly can give Mike some options on what he wants to do with him," Armstrong said of Sharp's versatility. "Obviously he's playing right now on the left side with Toews [in Chicago]. Mike may start it there, but he can play the right or the left and even the point on the power play for Chicago. I don't think he'll be needed to play the power-play point with us given there's [Shea] Weber, [Drew] Doughty and [Alex] Pietrangelo there, but it's another option. He gives Mike and the coaches some options on where they can use him and with what type of players."
Being shifted around is something Sharp has grown used to.
"Growing up playing for good coaches, they always taught me to play different positions. It started with John Stevens and Ken Hitchcock in Philly, Denis Savard and then Joel here in Chicago, they always moved me around whether it was center, left wing, right wing and playing defense on the power play, I've played everywhere over the years from fourth line to the first line," said Sharp, 32. "So I'd like to think I can be plugged in anywhere and find chemistry with somebody somehow."
Sharp is among 10 Sochi-bound Olympians on the Blackhawks, which you would think would lead to some lively dressing room banter, no?
"It's been pretty quiet, surprisingly," Sharp said. "I think it'll pick up here in the next few weeks. The Hawks have been hot and cold since the Olympic announcement, so we're trying to get back on track that way. We go on the road here for two weeks before Sochi and guys are starting to discuss a little bit what to expect over there in Russia and what to pack, what to bring, what the situation is going to be like.
"But it's just a matter of time before I start to give the American [Kane] a hard time, and picking on the Swede [Niklas Hjalmarsson] a little bit, but it'll be a fun tournament to see those guys over there for sure."
Especially now that Sharp, for the first time, is part of that special Olympic trip.
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