Patrick Sharp spent the better part of the late 2000s tormenting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, teaming up with Adam Burish to make the kids’ lives a living hell. From cutting laces to cutting comments to trashed hotel rooms to hundreds of dollars of unwanted 6 a.m. room service, Sharp made it his personal mission to cut the budding superstars down to size and keep their heads from getting too big.
And after two years away, Sharp cringes at the near mythical status the two have attained among their increasingly younger teammates.
“They get a lot of respect around here from the younger guys,” Sharp smirked. “We’ve got to whip them into shape a little bit.”
Yes, Sharp looks like his old self after long-overdue hip surgery in March. But perhaps just as notably, he sounds like his old self, too. It’s as if he never left.
“At his age, 35, he’s giving me a hard time with all the [fitness] testing he was beating me on [Thursday],” Toews said. “He doesn’t seem to be aging at all.”
Other than adjusting to the significantly brighter lights that have been installed at the United Center — the long-jaundiced rink finally looks white — and a few new twists and turns in the dressing room that was remodeled in the wake of the 2015 Stanley Cup celebration, Sharp has felt right at home during the first few days of training camp. He has looked good on the ice, scoring a goal during Friday’s scrimmages and picking up a goal and two assists during Saturday’s training-camp festival. He’s also slid right back into old habits — most notably, chirping Toews.
“Feels like I never left in that area,” Sharp said. “It’s always fun to take jabs at him and Kaner, of course. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come back and be a Hawk again, because they’re my best friends in hockey, the guys I’ve played so many years with. I just feel comfortable being on the team.”
He feels comfortable with his surgically repaired hip, too, beating out most of his veteran teammates during Thursday’s fitness testing. Kane called him “a freak of nature,” punctuating it with a perhaps kid-brotherly “at that age” dig.
“You know he’s going to be focused coming in and have a good camp,” Kane said. “He looks like he’s dialed in. He’s looked really good in the skates we’ve been having [over the summer], too.”
Sharp said he probably should have had the hip surgery after the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2015, but fought through it during his two seasons in Dallas. He scored 20 goals in his first season with the Stars, but had just eight goals last year as an early season concussion cost him about two months. He recovered from the concussion, but the hip issue scuttled a potential trade-deadline deal that would have sent him back to Chicago for the stretch run, according to a league source.
Once Dallas was eliminated from playoff contention in late March, Sharp had the surgery to make sure he’d be ready for the start of the season. He’s been back on the ice for a couple of months and felt 100 percent, but admitted he was “relieved” to be proven right by the fitness testing.
“It’s a scary summer when you go through any kind of surgery,” Sharp said. “Any surgery has an impact on your body and how you’re going to respond to it. I knew with the 4- to 6-month recovery that was ahead of me, I wanted to take advantage of that [early end to the season]. I knew I felt good, but in fitness testing I hit all my numbers I wanted to hit in the past as a Hawk, so that just confirms how I feel on the ice.”
Sharp doesn’t know where he’ll slot in among the forwards. Nick Schmaltz got the first crack at skating alongside Kane in Artemi Panarin’s old spot, which would allow Sharp to provide some much-needed depth scoring in the bottom six. But Schmaltz centered Sharp and Kane for some of Saturday’s scrimmage. While Sharp might technically be a newcomer this year, he knows all too well that lines are always subject to Joel Quenneville’s whims.
Sharp isn’t sweating it. After two years away, he doesn’t care where he plays — as long as it’s in Chicago.
“It is a little different than when I was here in the past, but there’s a lot of familiarity,” he said. “The comfort level is high, and hopefully that leads to good things.”