By Larry Wigge
No one ever accused Patrick Sharp of not being focused and driven. But it would be safe to say that there was some uncertainty about Sharp's future when he was traded by the Philadelphia Flyers to the Chicago Blackhawks in December 2005.
You see, the Thunder Bay, Ontario, native, sustained a concussion in his last game with the Flyers and he wasn't quite himself.
"It probably wasn't the smartest move to keep on playing," Sharp said. "But I had been waiting for so long to get a real chance to play in the NHL. I wasn't going to waste any opportunities. I wasn't knocked out in my last game with the Flyers, but it took a good month before I felt like I was back to normal."
What it doesn't say is why Philadelphia traded Sharp to Chicago in one of the most one-sided deals in the NHL in the last decade -- Sharp and Eric Meloche were sent from the Flyers to the Blackhawks for winger Matt Ellison and a third-round draft choice.
But ... Sharp, concussed or not, turned himself into a goal scorer.
With two games remaining this season, Patrick netted 33 goals and assisted on 35 others. That gives the 30-year-old three 30-goal seasons in the last five years.
There's nothing normal about Patrick Sharp's story. He has always had to prove himself to coaches and scouts. When he was 15, he wasn't even drafted by a junior team because of his diminutive stature.
"I was 5-foot-7, 140-pounds playing against guys 6-1, 6-2 and nearly 200 pounds," Sharp said in answer to an obstacle he had to overcome in life.
But being undrafted didn't rattle Sharp. It just made him more determined to prove the skeptics wrong. By the time he was about 17, he grew to 6-1, 190-pounds and spurned the Ontario Hockey League for the University of Vermont. In his freshman year, scouts finally began to notice his speed, tenacity and hockey smarts. The Flyers selected him in the third round, 95th overall, in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Now, oh so many years later, all of Sharp's hard work is finally paying off. He had worked his way into the NHL as a depth forward who kills penalties, but this season he has taken on an increased roll.
Former Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock and Blackhawks star Denis Savard were prime pushers for Sharp.
"He does things naturally that all coaches want from their players," said Hitchcock. "He's a good player with the puck and a very, very intelligent hockey player without it. He never looks out of place at center or either wing. He has skill and quickness.
"But most of all, he's smart and has a natural hockey instinct for the game."
"He gave me a chance," Sharp said of Savard. "He also brought in a skating style and encouraged us to be creative. Not just dumping and chasing, skating up and down the wings. It takes advantage of my skills."
And, of course, Sharp took a summer course in strength and conditioning -- that to Blackhawks coach Paul Goodman.
"It's tough in today's game to get scoring chances and get shots on net," said Sharp. "The harder I work and the faster I play that seems to be coming to me more and more. You have to shoot the puck to score goals so that's what I've been focusing on this year.
"He (Goodman) changed my life. When I came here, I needed to improve in every area and focus on getting stronger and faster. His individual workouts are a big reason for my success on the ice. I could have been much better, but I didn't put a focus on training then. I wasn't lazy; I just didn’t realize that the off-ice stuff made me better on ice."
Sharp got the message loud and clear.
"I woke up and started training harder. I realized it's up to the individual player to put the work in, and I do that now," he said. "Playing takes so much out of you."
Sharp's work ethic comes from his parents. Patrick's dad, who was born in Scotland and adopted as an infant by a Canadian family, ran a successful doughnut business, which started out as one store, Robin's Doughnut Shop, in 1975. The elder Sharp has expanded the business to more than 400 shops throughout Canada and the United States. His mom worked in the doughnut business as well, until Patrick and his older brother Chris were born.
The best advice Sharp ever got came from his dad.
"I always remember him telling me not to get sidetracked, to pick something in life that excited me and give it all I've got," Sharp said. "From the days when I would tag along with my brother, Chris, I always wanted to be a hockey player.
"I never forgot, or got sidetracked, from the thought that a lot of younger players I played with coming through the ranks got chances when I knew I was better than them."
And it all started in the Sharp's driveway with his brother and the neighborhood NHL wannabes.
"I was always Mike Modano, even if I didn't have his size or speed," Sharp said. "The other player I started watching when I got to Vermont was Martin St. Louis. I remember admiring the way he beat the odds -- scouts saying he was too small to make it -- all the way to NHL MVP and a Stanley Cup."
At Vermont, Sharp completed two years of a business degree.
"I always liked math and finance," he said. "If I wasn't a hockey player I would work in the small business field. I would have been proud to follow in my dad's footsteps."
For now, he'll make more dough in hockey.
And don't forget every twist and turn of his career from that long trek on a Thunder Bay driveway so many years ago. Patrick Sharp won't.