The following story originally appeared in 'One Goal II: The Inside Story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks'
Without sounding disrespectful to other athletes, there are certain qualities assigned to hockey players ahead of anyone else in sports. Hockey players will play with an injury, they'll scrap when they have to, and you can never keep them down for very long. Some people may call it crazy, but those who understand the game see it for what it really is: character, competitiveness and the willingness to put their own well-being on the line for the good of the team. Those are the kinds of guys who make a difference in the long run -- the guys you win championships with -- and it speaks to why someone like Andrew Shaw is so valuable.
Any time a team wins the Stanley Cup, there are usually a couple of players who really make names for themselves. To me, the 2013 Stanley Cup Final -- and really, the entire season before that -- was Andrew's coming-out party. In the short amount of time that he's been in Chicago, he's earned a cult following among Blackhawks fans. I think that's because the city identifies with him and his blue-collar approach to the game. Shaw's a guy who has worked for everything he's gotten, and he's had to earn the respect from his teammates and opponents along the way.
Video: A message from Andrew Shaw
When you meet Andrew, you understand almost immediately why he is the competitor that you see on the ice. There are a lot of guys who get the opportunity to play at the National Hockey League level -- guys more naturally gifted than he is -- who don't make the most of it. But when Joel Quenneville and his assistants told Andrew to stand in front of the net on the power play, he did it, though he took a beating while he was there. When the coaches asked him to play center, he decided that he was going to be the toughest center he could be. He believes that whenever he's given a responsibility, he has to be the best player in the league in that area. I respect his approach. He's overcome any deficits he has with desire, tenacity and dedication to his game.
The first time some around the league noticed Andrew was during the 2012 playoffs against Phoenix. He never shifted down a gear through the entire series, even when it got him in trouble. While the NHL may have frowned upon his hit on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, what was on display there was the same quality that makes Andrew the special player he is: his unwillingness to back down in any situation. You can debate about the hit or the consequences, but it brought into focus the drive and grit that he plays with on a nightly basis.
Video: 2013 Rewind: Andrew Shaw
Throughout the 2013 playoffs, the cult of Andrew Shaw grew. When it was decided that Chicago would meet Boston for the Stanley Cup, the formerly unsung overage draft pick was favorably compared with Brad Marchand, himself a skilled, very tough, hard-nosed competitor. When Andrew was told to go to the front of the net, often against the league's largest skater in Zdeno Chara, he did it, seemingly with joy. Everyone knew who was going to win that physical battle -- it wasn't really a contest -- but they were equal in the contest of wills, and Andrew was not going to back down. He loves that challenge; it drives him. He knows what he can do, and he's not afraid. He believes he can out-compete any opponent.
When Andrew went down after getting hit by that puck in Game 6 at TD Garden, I believed he would do everything he could to come back, but you never know the extent of the injury. There are countless other guys who have been hit by a puck in the wrong spot, and they break a bone or get a concussion and they're out for months. Watching from the booth, we just hoped he could deal with the pain and that there was no structural damage. As a former player and as a fan, I really appreciated the lengths he went to so he could come right back. It wasn't a surprise to me when we saw him again, stitched up and determined to not miss a shift -- as long as he had any say in the matter, I knew he wouldn't ever quit.
Like Duncan Keith's gap-filled mouth in 2010, the image of Andrew holding the Stanley Cup, the massive cut on his cheek still bleeding, will go down in history as a signature of the Blackhawks' 2013 championship run. It's the one people will remember for a long time.
Video: HIGHLIGHTS: Best of Shaw in Chicago
For Andrew Shaw, Stanley Cup champion, every naysayer who has ever doubted him has now been proven wrong. There are several reasons why he was overlooked by teams in his draft year, and the year after that, but he has overcome those shortcomings with hard work and unwavering focus that surpasses his innate abilities.
Back in his days in the Ontario Hockey League, Shaw had to tell himself that even though he didn't have many believers, he knew he could make it to the NHL. The Blackhawks saw it when they drafted him in 2011.
Now the rest of the hockey world does, too.