Young Ladd a grizzled veteran

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

CHICAGO -- Andrew Ladd is one of only three Chicago Blackhawks with a Stanley Cup ring.

He also is capable of growing a great playoff beard.

And he's only 23.

As the Chicago Blackhawks head into their first-round playoff series with the Calgary Flames, he's as much a grizzled vet as you get.

"In here? Yeah, I am," Ladd said yesterday. "Last time I went through this, I had lots of older guys who led the way and I was the follower. It's going to be fun to be one of the guys leading the way."

Three years ago, Ladd was much like his famous teammates Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane -- new to the NHL playoff experience.

Of course, it worked well for the former Calgary Hitmen forward. He and the Carolina Hurricanes skated all the way to the championship.

He'll be doing what he can to impart some of that knowledge to his teammates. Kane sits beside him, and Toews is on the other side of Kane.

"It's going to be fun for a lot of guys in here who have never experienced it before," Ladd said. "It's the fun part of playing in the NHL, the best hockey you'll play. It's a whole new level in terms of excitement, everything.

"I think guys in here will enjoy it."

These next couple of weeks may very well bring plenty for Ladd to enjoy, too.

For starters, he knows all about both buildings.

He spent two seasons with the Hitmen and witnessed the buzz surrounding the Flames' run to the final in 2004.

You bet he's looking forward to the volume tomorrow night at the United Center when the puck drops.

"The atmosphere we've had the whole year, it's been great all year, so to think about it being even more exciting in this building is fun for us," Ladd said. "We've been a team that's fed off our fans all year and done pretty well, so it's going to be fun."

Not to mention the charge he'll get going to Calgary.

"No kidding, playoffs and Calgary. It's two things to be excited about," said the product of Maple Ridge, B.C. "It's going to be nice to have family able to come out and watch a couple of games."

Ladd's value to the Blackhawks over the best-of-seven series is expected to go beyond veteran wisdom.

He, along with linemates David Bolland and Dustin Byfuglien, are pegged to be the shutdown trio against Jarome Iginla and the rest of the first-line Flames.

"It's going to be fun if we get that opportunity," said Ladd, who collected 15 goals and 49 points this season.

"Jarome is one of the best players in the league and going to be a real challenge for us. We're going to have to focus on shutting him down."

At least Ladd has plenty of experience watching Iginla. You'd think he gained some insight from sharing the Saddledome with the Flames for a couple of seasons.

"I think it's common knowledge he does everything well. He's physical, smart, fast, scores. There's not many things he can't do," Ladd said. "It's going to be a really tough challenge."

This series is also a chance to renew acquaintances with another rival.

Ladd and Flames defenceman Dion Phaneuf had some celebrated battles in junior -- including their infamous scrap at the same time Ladd's current teammate Colin Fraser duked it out with Hitmen star Ryan Getzlaf.

"And we played them in a playoff series with Red Deer," Ladd said. "I'm familiar with what (Phaneuf) brings to the table and he knows what I can do. It's going to be another long battle."


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