Now that he has accomplished something he had yearned to do since the first time he laced up skates, Patrick Sharp won't be content to merely enjoy the sights when he arrives in Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Olympics.
"In years past, I would have been happy to be there and just do whatever I can do to help the team," Sharp said. "I'm still going to have that mindset, but I'm going there to be an impact player."
The impact Sharp has made with the Blackhawks the last few seasons drew the attention of Hockey Canada. After he was left off the 2010 squad that captured gold in Vancouver, the Winnipeg native has done everything in his power to be a part of his country's quest for another.
That meant more time in the gym and on the ice to reach top physical condition. When he was 31, Sharp, now 32, was named the Hawks' fittest player during testing in training camp. He was driven in summer workouts by the idea that a strong start to the season could mean a spot on Canada's 25-man roster.
"It was there, for sure," Sharp said of the motivation to be named to Team Canada. "Not just this season but since the last Olympics, I tried to get on the map. I played in two world championships, and I tried to show the people picking that team that I'm worthy of putting the jersey on. A lot has been made of the last couple of weeks or months, but it's really been preparation for years."
Now that Sharp is among the group of some of the top players in the world, including Canadian Olympic teammates Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos, Corey Perry, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, he realizes he has reached the highest level in the sport.
"I'd like to consider myself a fan of the game more than anything, and I watched those Olympic hockey games in the years past, and you're amazed by the talent that's out there and the speed of the game, and to think I'm going to be a part of that is really special to me," Sharp said. "It's something I can't wait to do."
Among the NHL leaders in goals and points, Sharp is in the midst of his finest season. He has been an integral part of the Hawks' bid for a second consecutive Stanley Cup and third in five years.
That said, he believes there's another level that can be attained.
"I still think there's more to be reached," Sharp said. "Whether it's consistency or it's something specific in my game, I feel like I can get better every season, and I plan on doing that for a few more years anyway. Even years ago I always thought I could be a better hockey player."
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Sharp's consistency has been the biggest factor in his season thus far. Quenneville has rewarded Sharp with quality ice time on the Hawks' top line with Toews and Marian Hossa.
"(Sharp) has had a good attitude right off the bat," Quenneville said. "(It's) probably the most consistent we've seen him in his career, and his level of play has been the best we've seen it. He had the right approach from the outset, and the preparation and contributing on a night-to-night basis is what he's been doing. It's been a great year for him."
It is a year in which he could add a gold medal to his accomplishments, which include two Stanley Cups and an NHL All-Star Game most valuable player award. It is the gold that most intrigues him, especially after being near -- but not too close -- to a teammate's 2010 medal.
"I never looked at it," Sharp said. "I didn't touch it, but I did watch them play that gold-medal game. I was really jealous. I wanted to be a part of it in some way, so to think that that will be in my future shortly is very exciting."
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