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Shaw never backed away from goal of reaching NHL

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks
Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Andrew Shaw wears a black band on his right wrist, and that's as good a place as any to start a story about the undersized agitator who centers the Chicago Blackhawks' third line.

The white lettering stamped on it is a little faded, but Shaw wears it every day and it's symbolic of his hockey career. It says: "Ironworkers Local 721," and was given to him by a good friend in Toronto who was a member of that guild back when Shaw played for the Owen Sound Attack and won the 2010-11 Ontario Hockey League championship.

"I've just worn it ever since then," Shaw said Monday at United Center, two days before making a childhood dream come true by playing in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. "I just always wear it."

It's a reminder of how Shaw got to where he's at, with a stall in the Blackhawks' locker room located next to star right wing Patrick Kane -- someone he now calls a friend and teammate. Kane, in fact, is the one who came up with a nickname for Shaw based on where he was selected by Chicago in the 2011 NHL Draft.

"Shaw?" Kane said earlier this season, when reporters asked about his locker-room neighbor. "Oh, you mean our 19th-round draft pick?"

It's a reference to Shaw being passed over in two seven-round drafts before Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman selected him in the fifth round (No. 139) of the 2011 NHL Draft. That's how far Shaw -- who generously is listed at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds -- has come to make his dream of being an NHL player a reality.

Asked about his path to this point, Shaw sounded like someone with a hard hat above his locker instead of a hockey helmet.

"It shows that hard work pays off," said Shaw, who has four goals, three assists and 26 penalty minutes in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games. "I worked for everything I've gotten and it just shows if you push yourself to your limits, you can achieve whatever you want. This is something I've wanted my entire life and I'm glad to be here."

It really is a remarkable story, especially considering how quickly Shaw went from junior hockey to the NHL in relation to his draft position.

The season before he was drafted, Shaw centered the third line for Owen Sound. After totaling 22 goals and 32 assists in 66 regular-season games, he had 10 goals and seven assists in 20 OHL playoff games.

The 2011 Memorial Cup tournament, however, is where he really caught the attention of the Blackhawks, scoring two goals, adding five assists and racking up 16 penalty minutes in four games to lead all scorers and make the tournament's All-Star team.

That's where the course of Shaw's career took a sharp turn toward the NHL. Had it not been for that season, that tournament and all the work he put into it, there's no telling where he would be right now. He might be kicking around the minors, or even back in Toronto working as a member of Ironworkers Local 721 with his buddy.

"Playing in junior, third line there, you never expect to be playing in the NHL in the Stanley Cup Final," Shaw said. "It's a dream come true. It's pretty surreal."

It's also something he's earned, as the scrape across the bridge of his nose -- courtesy of the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final -- attests. Shaw made a splash in Chicago almost instantly, starting with his appearance at the 2011 prospects camp held down the road from United Center at the Blackhawks' practice rink.

He stood out with a skill set of speed, good hands and vision, but also got into some scraps with other Blackhawks prospects. He did the same thing in training camp the following fall, leaving an impression on his future teammates and coaches by fighting veteran forward Daniel Carcillo and making his presence felt in other ways.

"He's a funny guy," said Chicago forward prospect Ben Smith, who also was passed over twice in the NHL draft before the Blackhawks selected him in the sixth round in 2008. "He likes to mix it up. Sometimes you wonder if he thinks you're on the other team because he'll try and get in your head [in practice] and badger you a little bit. That's just the way he is. He doesn't turn it off, and that's what gotten him to this point."

Shaw started last season with Rockford of the American Hockey League, but worked his way onto the third line in Chicago midway through the season. He got his first fight [against Zac Rinaldo] and first goal [against Ilya Bryzgalov] out of the way in his first NHL game, which came on the road against the Philadelphia Flyers.

It's been more of the same ever since. After shifting from the wing to center this season, Shaw continues to be a pest on the third line -- albeit a pest who is capable of beating goalies like Jonathan Quick with a wicked wrist shot every now and then.

"He does have, whether people think of it or not, quite a bit of skill," Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy said. "I love watching him play. He likes to get in guys' faces. Not being the biggest guy, he'll still get in any guy's face and give them a hard time or whatnot."

It's probably the ironworker hidden inside him bubbling to the surface, refusing to let him back down from anything.

Earlier this season, after taking a few whacks in front of the net from Nashville Predators 6-foot-7 defenseman Hal Gill, Shaw turned around and threw some gloved punches at the much-bigger veteran. Teammates on the bench joked that he should consider bringing a stepladder with him next time, but stuff like that is why Shaw draws smiles from teammates whenever they're asked about him.

"I think it just proves his attitude," Smith said. "He had a goal, obviously, and he's the kind of guy that he'll do anything for it. You saw right in his first [NHL] game, when he fought Zac Rinaldo in Philly. He kind of took a few punches, but he showed that he's tough and that he's here to stay. It's great to see and it's great for all of us to see what it takes, just being relentless and having the attitude that he's never going to quit and he's going to be here for good."

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