"It's almost a revolving door," he said. "That was an eye-opening experience. My stall-mates have changed three or four times already. All of a sudden this guy's gone. That guy's gone. That guy was cut the morning before you got here. It's very good motivation."
Shields is empathic, but even more predatory. The main reason that he's still wearing a Chiefs jersey is that the openings he saw around him were ones he rushed to exploit.
"When it was my turn to do something, I had to do something," he said. "If you are not doing what you are doing, you will be replaced with someone who can do it."
Shields' nameplate might not be screwed above his locker just yet, but he can certainly slap it up there with some strong glue. Whatever job security is available through two months of ECHL play, Shields has earned it.
Shields, 25, is tied for fifth in rookie scoring with 21 points (11-10). He was named the league's rookie of the month for November after producing 17 points in 13 games, to go along with 5 power-play goals, a pair of five-game point streaks and six multiple-point games during the month.
Those are the kinds of numbers that can make your mug a familiar one around the rink, which Shields has become after turning his tryout deal into a regular contract.
"He said, 'This is where I want to be. I will do what it takes to stay here,'" said first-year Johnstown coach Jeff Flanagan. "It's one thing that attracted me to his character, that he was very confident in what he could do."
Flanagan sensed he might have a catch in Shields this preseason, but wasn't sure he could hang onto him. When Flanagan took over the team in September, he had loads of contracted players and the best he could offer his rookie was a tryout pact.
"He's very confident in his abilities," Flanagan said. "I said, 'Come down here, come to camp.' I gave it to him straight. I said we'd like to have you on the team, but we have a lot of guys right now. He stayed and slowly worked his way into the lineup."
There weren't a lot of better options. Shields was at home in Edmonton during the summer, working hockey camps and wondering how he was going to apply his double-major of economics and psychology in the real world.
Shields has a curious mind, and he likes to study how eyes work and why people do what they do. There is also a time and place for tunnel vision, though, and he remained locked in on hockey. Problem was, his pro options were as fallow as a prairie.
"I was getting worried. I was getting ready to start looking at jobs and stuff," he said.
As Shields was learning, the nature of the pro game both gives opportunities and takes them away. His strong start in Johnstown resulted in an ECHL pact when another player got hurt.
"When they said they had too many contracts, I said, OK. I took (the tryout deal), could do what I could do. Stay there with the thought the coach likes you, and make him like you more," Shields said. "I didn't feel like I was behind them skill-wise. I felt like I knew I belonged. I was ready to face the fact if this doesn't happen, it doesn't happen."
Shields kept advancing because his game did the same. He was a defensive forward at Dartmouth, scoring 49 points total in four seasons there and dropping down to a fourth-liner as a senior.
"They gave me chances on the power play, I just couldn't score," Shields said. "I'd miss an open net, weird things would happen, I wouldn't score. I don't mind playing defensively. It didn't work out the way I hoped it would (offensively) in college. My college career wasn't representative of the way I could play."
"It's almost a revolving door. That was an eye-opening experience. My stall-mates have changed three or four times already. All of a sudden this guy's gone. That guy's gone. That guy was cut the morning before you got here. It's very good motivation."
-- Connor Shields
"Like a lot of the college guys, he's got real good practice habits. He's got a good nose for the net. He knows where to be for rebounds. Five on five, he goes to the net. He's not afraid to go where the puck's going to be. On the power play, he's got a real good sense of finding the seams, getting to the place where teammates can get the puck to him."
Style points never mattered to Shields. He estimated that five of his first six scores this season were of the junk variety, and he basked in his teammates' description of him as a garbage man.
"I have a couple breakaway goals, so they've stopped calling me that," Shields said. "I told the guys, there's no photos on the scoresheet. I've always said to myself, don't worry about points. Worry about playing hard. During my hockey career, whenever I've started worrying about points, that's when they've stopped coming."
And if that happens, well, Shields' current success doesn't mean he forgets how easily he could some day be the latest missing face in the locker room.
"I wouldn't say I'm worried, but it's in my mind," he said. "Just because things are going well doesn't mean I can stop doing what I was doing to be successful, take my foot off the accelerator. It's the real world now."