"We used to laugh at the fact that he didn't shoot the puck very well. But he stayed out every day after practice and put in extra time on his shooting. When Brendan was young, he was a little bit goofy on the outside and not very many people noticed that on the inside, he was an extremely competitive person. He always wanted to be a great player and he was working toward that."
-- Sean Burke on Brendan Shanahan
And, not only did the Devils make the 1988 playoffs, they went all the way to the Prince of Wales Conference Championship before losing to the Boston Bruins. Shanahan played in 65 games and had 7 goals and 19 assists in the regular season. He had only 1 goal and 2 assists while playing in 12 of the Devils' 20 playoff games.
Typical rookie season, fast start, struggling finish.
It was just the opposite for Burke, who had split duties with Andy Moog on the Canadian National Team for most of the season. Burke joined the Devils and went 10-1 down the stretch, helping them to fourth place in the Patrick Division. Burke was even better in the playoffs, beating the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals before taking the Bruins to Game 7.
"We got off to a good start that year and then we were in and out, not consistent," veteran defenseman Tom Kurvers recalled. "But we could turn back to that start when things didn't go well and get back to believing in ourselves. We were fighting for respectability when Sean Burke came in and went 10-1 down the stretch. He changed us and in the playoffs, he carried us.
"We had a nice playoff run and the next year, Shanahan moved up to play on the first line with John MacLean and Patrik Sundstrom."
"We had a lot of good, young players, older than us, MacLean, Aaron Broten, Kirk Muller, Pat Verbeek, Craig Wolanin, a long list of really good character guys and I'm sure Brendan agrees with me that they were good role models for young guys breaking into the league," Burke said.
Kurvers and Burke, now the Phoenix Coyotes goaltending coach, remember something about Shanahan, who scored 656 NHL goals, that will shock people today.
"Surprisingly, when I first played with Brendan, he didn't have a very good shot," Burke recalled. "We used to laugh at the fact that he didn't shoot the puck very well. But he stayed out every day after practice and put in extra time on his shooting. When Brendan was young, he was a little bit goofy on the outside and not very many people noticed that on the inside, he was an extremely competitive person. He always wanted to be a great player and he was working toward that.
"The next season, his shot was much better and he scored 22 goals. He was always a great scorer after that," said Burke, who roomed with Shanahan in New Jersey. Shanahan was also Burke's best man at his wedding.
"I got divorced but that's not 'Shanny's' fault," Burke laughed.
"It was like one day in practice, Brendan learned how to shoot," Kurvers recalled. "He could always score from in close and then one day he had the power. Almost overnight, he could shoot the puck as well as anybody in the league."
"If memory serves, Brendan's first NHL goal beat John Vanbiesbrouck, when he was with the New York Rangers, a wrist shot from inside the blue line, a simple shot. It wasn't until after he played with Brett Hull that he could beat goalies from the top of the circle and he really worked at that," Burke said.
"Brendan was such an energetic, eager young man when he was drafted and he was excited to be an NHL player," Kurvers said. "It was everything that he'd ever wanted and now, here he was. He worked very hard and emerged in his second season as a scorer and that became his trademark. He took something that wasn't a strength and made it the mark of his career."