CHICAGO – At 21 years old, Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad already has made NHL history.
OK, well, it’s almost impossible to know for sure. But can you name another hockey player who has played the piano with Lord Stanley’s Cup resting atop the lid?
“What kind of nerd plays the piano?” teammate Bryan Bickell said with a toothless, tongue-in-cheek grin. “I mean, my dad plays the piano. I call him a nerd.”
It’s cool to be a nerd.
Much like the rest of his Hawks teammates, Saad has hit almost all of the right notes during the first three-plus months of the regular season. The 6-foot-1, 202-pound winger has 15 goals and 19 assists while playing mostly on the second line, and Wednesday’s contest against the Detroit Red Wings will mark his 100th career game.
On the ice, Saad is a speedy, decisive, two-way player.
Off the ice, he’s a friendly, relaxed, 88-key player.
With piano, unlike hockey, you can sit on the bench and play at the same time.
“I like the sound of it,” Saad said Tuesday after practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “It’s fun to play to take your mind off things.”
It all started in elementary school – about fifth grade, Saad guessed – when his parents signed him up for piano lessons. But a rigorous travel schedule for hockey eventually prompted him to stop taking lessons.
Saad’s extra attention on hockey paid off in a big way. He blossomed as a teenager with the U.S. development program in Michigan before joining the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League at age 18.
The Hawks selected him in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and Saad rocketed through the minors to earn a Stanley Cup ring as a 20-year-old rookie last season.
These days, Saad serves as his own piano instructor. He looks up songs on YouTube and tries his best to imitate what he hears.
His favorite is a classic, more than four decades old.
“I can play ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel,” Saad said. “Big hit. Everyone likes that.”
Imagine if the Hawks set up a piano in the corner of the dressing room.
Ben Folds, anyone? How about some Ray Charles? Who doesn’t love Stevie Wonder?
Saad chuckled at the image. He doesn’t tell a lot of teammates that he plays.
“Maybe one day, I’ll play for the team,” Saad said. “We’ll see.”
Hawks defenseman Nick Leddy said he was surprised earlier this season when Saad told him he could play the piano. Leddy might not be a music expert, but he knew enough to understand that “Piano Man” was beyond entry-level material.
“I think it just shows his intelligence,” Leddy said. “It’s pretty amazing that he can play such a tough instrument.”
He can play a tough game, too.
Thirteen of Saad’s 25 career goals have come on home ice, where “Chelsea Dagger” blasts from the speakers every time the Hawks score.
If necessary, could Saad step in and play the tune on piano?
“I haven’t learned that one yet,” Saad said. “But it’s on my list.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @tcmusick.