It takes more than just talent to land a coveted spot in the National Hockey League. It takes a role model who challenges you to succeed, sets the bar high, and believes in your dream. For Brandon Saad, left wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, that person is his older brother, George.
“I’m here because of my brother,” said Brandon. “He was always bigger than me and, being older, he was always more mature, so I had to compete even harder to be at his level. That always made me work harder, and I think that helped develop me into the player I am.”
Growing up in a cul-de-sac near Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Brandon and George never missed a chance to play street hockey with neighborhood pals. They played on different ice hockey teams until high school, but were always competitive.
“We’re still competitive, whether it’s playing games or playing cards,” said Brandon. “It’s always fun to have that competition with your brother and just be in the moment together.”
In his downtime, Brandon tagged along with George and his friends, saying his big brother always handled it good-naturedly. According to George, however, that sometimes took prompting.
“There’d be some arguments that I had gotten into with him saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this on my own’ and I just remember my dad stepping in and saying, ‘Look, you might not realize it now, but he’s going to be your best friend and he’ll always be there for you.’” Their dad was right. “He’s by far, definitely, my best friend,” said George.
Being older and more mature, George also taught Brandon important life skills that helped him succeed, including work ethic and the ability to juggle his academic and athletic demands.
“He was definitely a leader all the time and he led by example,” said Brandon. “Any time life is not going well, it’s nice to have a support system and to be with your older brother and see how he handles things. Even if you’re not talking to him and asking questions, you can just sit back and observe and be a sponge. He was a great role model.”
When the Saad brothers played together for their high school hockey team, George took Brandon under his wing. “It was always different line combinations, but when we got to play together we always had fun,” Brandon recalled. “He had a big frame so it was nice being the younger brother and seeing him run around and protect me out there on the ice. I always looked up to him.”
During those years, George drove his younger brother to countless practices and games with no complaints.
“I guess you can say I came up with Uber before it existed,” Brandon teased. “He picked me up from school, took me to practice, and took me home, and I didn’t have to pay for it. It worked out for everyone.”
When George went off to college to play hockey, Brandon made the U.S. National Team, finishing the 2009-10 season with the most goals and points on the team. His dream of playing pro began to take shape. He transferred to the Ontario Hockey League in Saginaw, Michigan at the major junior level the following year and was drafted at the end of that season by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Brandon’s family was seated beside him for the big moment. “We ended up all going as a family to the draft,” said Brandon. “When you get drafted, it’s just pure excitement. It’s something that you dream of as a young kid to get drafted in the NHL and to have my brother and my family there, it’s just a great moment to have in life. They were all proud and excited for me and hugging each other. “
Saad, with his silky left-handed shot, helped the Blackhawks bring home the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015. At 26 years old, he’s got a lot to look forward to. And it’s a comfort to know that his brother will be by his side.
“As a family we always try to stay close and be able to just talk and see how things are going in life,” he said. “I’m definitely fortunate to have him.”
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