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Hawks’ Sharp goes from being overlooked to being an All-Star

NHL all-STAR game

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Where: RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C. Format: Teams picked by captains Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal.

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Inside the Hawks blog: Patrick Sharp wins All-Star Game MVP

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Patrick Sharp’s father, Ian, has a story he often shares about his famous son, who is a key part of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

It happened 14 years ago, when Patrick was 15. He had just won the All Ontario Bantam AAA Hockey Championship in 1997 with the Thunder Bay Kings. The Kings had a ton of potential, including other future NHL players in forward Taylor Pyatt and goalie Alex Auld.

“There were an awful lot of stars on that team, kids that went on to play pro hockey, in the [Ontario Hockey League] and college hockey,” Ian said. “Patrick was kind of ignored.

“[NHL legend and agent] Bobby Orr was talking to a couple of kids on Patrick’s team as potential clients. He came in the dressing room and walked past Patrick and said, ‘Excuse me,’ to get to the other side of the room.”

But it’s a fond memory. It’s a situation they laugh about and give Orr a hard time about now, the Sharps said. Why?

“Today, Patrick is one of his clients,” Ian said.

Make that one of his top clients.

Sharp is an All-Star and the leading goal-scorer for the Hawks. Last postseason, he deserved more consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) than he got.

“Overlooked” is a word often used to describe the 29-year-old Sharp. It goes back to his days in Thunder Bay and includes his time in the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization and with the Hawks.

But it’s a tag that should be dropped, regardless of the snub he endured from not being on the All-Star ballot this season. In fact, he has been looked at a lot. Some say there might not have been a more sought-after player since the lockout.

The public might just be starting to appreciate what Sharp can do, but those who make and shape NHL rosters always have appreciated his array of talents.

“Over the course of the workweek, I speak to three or four general managers candidly about different things that are going on,” said Sharp’s agent, Rick Curran, who co-founded the Orr Hockey Group. “Every once in a while, they’ll say, ‘I need this. I need that. Who do you think will be available?’ The last three or four years, I’ve been asked about Patrick Sharp more than any other player that I have — with good reason. Every club makes mention of him.

“When the Hawks were going through their difficulties and had anticipated their [salary]-cap problems, I can’t begin to tell you how many calls I got. They all hoped and thought Patrick might be available. [Hawks general manager] Stan Bowman told me from Day 1, ‘Don’t believe anything. He’s not going anywhere. I consider him an untouchable.’ Which, again, is a credit to Patrick.”

Making of a star

There is another story about Sharp his family and friends love to share. It has more to do with Sharp’s lack of interest in serving coffee and doughnuts at Robin’s Donuts, a Canadian chain co-founded by his father.

“My dad got us a job serving coffee and doughnuts at one of the local stores in Thunder Bay,” said Chris Sharp, Patrick’s older brother. “Typical Patrick, our first day on the shift, I’m there working the drive-through, serving coffee, cleaning the tables and cleaning washrooms. Patrick is nowhere to be found. I go in the back room, and he’s sitting there eating sandwiches and doughnuts.”

His father was forgiving.

“They were working, and his dad came up to him one day and asked what he wanted to be and what he wanted to do,” said Bryson Busniuk, one of Sharp’s longtime friends and a former teammate. “Sharpie told him he wanted to play in the NHL. He let Pat off and said if he is going to concentrate on just being in the NHL, then he can just do that.

“Chris was up in arms because he didn’t get that option. He had to keep working. Chris worked the entire summer, and Pat got to work on hockey.”

Hockey was always first to Sharp, his parents said. They had their doubts and encouraged him to have a backup option, but there was never a Plan B.

Part of their hesitance had to do with Sharp being overlooked at times in his development. They describe their son as a “late bloomer,” due in part to his December birthday (Dec. 27, 1981).

“It kind of worried me for a while,” said Ruth Ann Sharp, Patrick’s mother. “I thought, ‘What are the chances of being a hockey player?’  ”

“He was always the youngest kid on the team,” Ian said. “He was sort of ignored by scouts. .  .  . He’s always had to come from behind. I don’t know why.”

But the talent was always there.

When Sharp was 15, he accompanied his family to Ottawa, where Chris was set to join the Kanata Valley Lasers (Central Junior Hockey League) as an 18-year-old. Sharp brought his equipment to take part in the camp, just to stay in shape for his own tryouts in Thunder Bay.

After a few practices, Sharp was asked to take part in an exhibition game with the Lasers. Sharp and his brother had success on a line, and both were signed.

“My parents had to ship all his clothes,” Chris said. “He wasn’t planning on actually going there, but he ended up catching the coach’s eye.”

Sharp was always an athlete, his mother said. He played baseball — Ian Sharp jokingly called himself the best third-base coach ever, and Patrick still makes fun of his signals for being too easy — and was a solid student.

But hockey, his family said, was always his calling.

Reaching new heights

Sharp opted to accept a scholarship to the University of Vermont instead of joining the Peterborough Petes (OHL), who drafted him in the seventh round.

It was at Vermont where the Sharps said they first realized their son could make it to the NHL. They saw a change in him.

“He realized what it was going to take to get there, and I saw the work ethic kick in,” Ian said.

But there was still more for Sharp, who was drafted by the Flyers in the third round in 2001, to overcome. Some trying moments came in 2005-06, the year after the NHL lockout and the year after he helped the Philadelphia Phantoms win the Calder Cup as American Hockey League champions.

Sharp was on a deep and veteran Flyers team, an experience he said he values and appreciates. The Flyers knew they had a solid young forward in Sharp, but they also had others, including former first-round picks Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.

Under former coach Ken Hitchcock, Sharp was getting only fourth-line minutes at the time. He wasn’t really getting a chance to blossom.

But there was an agreement in place with former Flyers GM Bobby Clarke at the time. If Sharp wasn’t going to get the minutes, he would be traded.

“[Clarke] said, ‘I won’t hold him back. He played great for us with the Phantoms. He won us a championship,’  ” Curran said. “To his credit, Clarke was a man of his word.”

A number of teams recognized Sharp was a good, young prospect. The Hawks just happened to be the lucky team to land him. On Dec. 5, 2005, the Flyers sent Sharp and Eric Meloche to the Hawks for Matt Ellison and a third-round pick in the 2006 draft.

“I remember the reaction of [former Hawks GM] Dale Tallon,” Curran said. “He felt like he had just won the lottery. Tallon was one of the guys who had been looking for Patrick Sharp for the better part of two or three years.”

All Sharp really needed was a chance, and he got it with the Hawks. There were frustrating moments, but he was set on improving in every facet.

“Sharp was never content to just be good,” said Hawks Hall of Famer Denis Savard, who coached Sharp as an assistant and head coach. “He wants to be a difference-maker night in, night out.”

There were tough times at first, such as a 24-game goal drought, but there was improvement every month.

“His confidence wasn’t where it should have been, but he had the will in him,” Savard said. “Once he gained the confidence, his game reached another level.”

Now there is really no way to measure his value, Bowman said. Sharp’s evolution from a goal-scorer to one of the best two-way players in the game has been as key to the Hawks’ turnaround as the rises of defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith and the arrivals of forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Sharp is versatile. He can play all three forward positions, can play the point on the power play and can play on the penalty kill.

“He’s never gotten the credit he deserves until now,” Bowman said. “People are starting to recognize him. We’ve been fortunate to see him grow into that role as being a premier player. He wasn’t there right away, but you always saw flashes of it.

“[Now] his value has been noticed not by us, but by everybody.”

Yes, it has.

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