LONDON, Ont. — Michael Sdao owns a history degree from Princeton University, which only makes sense.
After all, he’s a modern-day, old-school defenceman.
“Even at the development camps, where everybody knows everybody in the room, when he hits guys, he likes to put them in the fourth row,” says Binghamton Senators coach Luke Richardson. “And there’s not many players like that anymore.”
Similar to current Ottawa Senators left winger Colin Greening, right winger Erik Condra and defenceman Eric Gryba, Sdao (pronounced Sid-Eh-Oh) is a late-round draft pick (191st overall in 2009) who played a full four seasons of collegiate hockey before turning pro. Sdao played 12 games with Binghamton at the end of the 2012-13 regular season and he’ll be a regular on the blueline there this season.
“I was talking to some WHL teams, but I kind of wanted to go to college, get a couple more years to develop,” says the 24-year-old Sdao, a Minnesota native. “It was a great fit. I got a lot better there. I always wanted to be an NHL player, that was goal No. 1, and there are a lot of guys who come out of the Ivy Leagues now that have good careers.”
Not many of them, however, can be described as throwbacks. Sdao, 6-4 and 207 pounds and a self-described “emotional player,” keeps opponents on edge with his ability to hit hard. And often. There’s no fighting in college hockey, but fans can expect Sdao to drop the gloves a time or two with Binghamton this season. Before heading to Princeton, Sdao registered 178 and 162 penalty minutes in his two seasons with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
Protecting his team’s skilled players is part of his package. During the Senators’ 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the rookie tournament here Thursday, Sdao stepped off the bench to challenge the Penguins’ Bobby Farnham for a slew-foot attempt against Cody Ceci. The officials separated Sdao and Farnham before a fight developed, but Sdao earned a game misconduct for leaving the bench — an illustration of his mean streak.
“(Farnham) was running around a bit the whole game and Ceci is one of our top players,” he says. “It was little bit foolish on his part to be playing the way he was playing.”
Sdao’s philosophy toward fighting is “if it needs to happen, it happens,” and he acknowledges that due to the collegiate rules, “maybe I saved my hands a little.”
The challenge for Richardson is in trying to get Sdao to pick his spots to make his mark.
“We don’t want him running all over the place and trying to hit guys over the glass on every shift, and you’ve got to pick your spots,” he says.
Richardson, however, says it’s a luxury to be in position to fine-tune a player’s aggressive instincts.
“For a big, strong guy, he can kill penalties, push people out from front of net, to let goalies see the puck. He can be a little intimidating for (forwards) coming down on his side. Maybe he gets them to give up the puck a little early, and that’s a good thing. There aren’t a lot of guys who want to play like that, naturally, anymore.”
Having already lived on his own for four years playing college, he’s a low-maintenance prospect, at least compared to some younger players who have to learn to find their way with the lifestyle changes that come with playing professional hockey.
“Some kids come out of junior or out of Europe and they’ve never been away from home or everything is looked after,” says Richardson. “I mean, we’ve got stacks of bills and rent (in Binghamton’s offices) that’s not paid. They don’t know how to live. They just think everything is taken care of them on a schedule. You see the (college) guys adapt a lot quicker off the ice.”
Sdao successfully juggled some tricky scheduling upon joining Binghamton at the end of Princeton’s hockey season last spring. He played with Binghamton on the weekends, then went back to school to finish up his degree — with a 90 per cent average — during the week.
“That was a bit of a battle, a six-hour drive every Monday (to New Jersey) to go back to school, but I’m glad to be done and I’ve got my degree,” he says. “And now I’m a hockey player.”
In the future, he’s aiming to bring an old style to the Senators lineup.