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THE VERDICT: 'Irreplaceable' Shaw Saluted in Return to United Center

He was great in the room, where he kept things loose, and great on the bus, where he kept things loud

by Bob Verdi / Blackhawks.com

Andrew Shaw dropped the puck, not the gloves. Also, during Thursday's Legacy Night at the United Center, he refrained from running into foes, crashing the boards, blocking shots, or venturing toward the slot to accept, and deliver, contact.

Why, the little guy from a tiny town who made it big even managed to stand still for once to speak briefly to an affectionate crowd before the Blackhawks engaged the Montreal Canadiens. Shaw worked for both hallmark franchises, and both appreciated him immensely, although if he enters the Sutures Hall of Fame, chances are he'll go in as a Chicago guy.

That's where he started his meteoric National Hockey League career; that's where he finished it a bit soon; and that's where he contributed with such passion to two Stanley Cups. Shaw hoisted the second one while still bleeding, but Thursday night, his face featured only old scars, and the kid teammates called "The Mutt," the rumpled soul whom they accused of dressing in the dark, looked immaculate, downright spiffy -- sport jacket without a tie.

"I want to thank you for giving a Mutt a home," said Shaw on the red carpet. He saluted his hockey families, in Chicago and Montreal. He acknowledged the roars within the building. He's a talker, but the video tribute sufficed. He didn't have to add much. Now it's back to real life, a life he cherishes with wife, Chaunette, along with their young children Andy and Dax.

Video: MTL@CHI: Andrew Shaw legacy night

Seldom has the fiery Shaw hopped onto a sheet of ice when the scene seemed so tranquil as it did Thursday, when the ceremony was free of angst. But off to the side, The Mutt returned to his grounded self.

"They're spoiling me here," mentioned Shaw. He referred to the luxurious downtown hotel where the Blackhawks put him up for a couple days. Magnificent two-bedroom suite, every amenity imaginable, more miniature shampoo bottles than he could handle.

"Crazy," he went on. "Don't deserve it."

Think about that for a minute. When Shaw played for the Blackhawks, they traveled like royalty. They still do. Charter flights, gourmet meals, elite accommodations. Shaw had to stay in hundreds of deluxe lodgings, although he preferred heading out on prank patrol to redecorate Jonathan Toews' quarters when the captain was out to dinner.

But those days were about team, and now Shaw is a civilian, returning to his simpler roots. So, when his former employers made him feel like a king when he couldn't sacrifice for them anymore, he was humbled, overwhelmed, yet grateful.

"You think you'll get a gift, too?" Shaw was asked before his Legacy Night.

"Gift?" he replied. "Why would I also get a gift? The gift was getting a chance with the Blackhawks, playing in this great city, my second home, before these fans, being around the guys. Having a night like they're having for me. That's a gift."

Tweet from @NHLBlackhawks: Forever the Mutt. pic.twitter.com/nFLSslRx6B

A lesser man than Shaw, on a number of occasions, could have abandoned any thought whatsoever about succeeding in the NHL. A daunting number of occasions. He was passed over during all seven rounds of the draft in 2009 and 2010. Not until 2011 was he selected by the Blackhawks, during the fifth round, or 139th overall.

Patrick Kane, who immediately sensed that Shaw could handle a verbal jab, did some arithmetic and declared that this feisty kid was actually plucked in his 19th round of availability, thus making him the 559th choice.

But you can't invent energy or desire, and Shaw's agenda did not involve obscurity. After a brief stint with the Rockford IceHogs, Shaw joined the Blackhawks on Jan. 5, 2012. He fought on his second shift and scored his first goal. Fellow players quickly realized his combative ways, as did United Center fans who anointed him as a near instant favorite. Shaw did not have to revisit Rockford to gather his belongings. He had emptied his apartment for Chicago.

"Irreplaceable." That's the badge of honor attached to Shaw by then-head coach Joel Quenneville.

Shaw proudly wore a black rubber wristband -- "Ironworkers Local 721" -- in homage of a union back home in Belleville, Ont. He might have been a member, had he not kept on keeping on, plugging along as if he just knew how his story would unfold. He was great in the room, where he kept things loose, and great on the bus, where he kept things loud.

But best of all, Shaw was always present when role was called for games, especially his 67 playoff games, many of them marathons. In the opener of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as the clock struck midnight, Shaw set up office in thick traffic when Michal Rozsival gathered the puck inside the blue line. His shot caromed off Shaw's right leg and past goalie Tuukka Rask to provide the Blackhawks a 4-3 triple overtime classic over the Boston Bruins.

"I love shin pads," declared Shaw, whom NBC had wired for sound, confident that he would not react to a worldwide TV feed with silence. The Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup, as they did again in 2015 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Previously, Shaw, still looking so tiny out there while still playing stout, scored twice in a must-win Game 6 against the Anaheim Ducks. However, his levitating head-butt goal earlier in that consequential series did not count. But he tried. Always did.

"I was a trench guy," Shaw said. "Blue collar. I punched in for work and punched out."

These Blackhawks could use some of Shaw's fiber and texture. So could the Canadiens, with whom he played for three seasons before his second tour in Chicago. So could every NHL team, for that matter. He kept teammates in stitches, then took stitches for teammates. At age 29, Shaw's career probably could have been longer, but if he hadn't treated every shift as his last one, that just wouldn't have been his style.

"I was annoying," enthused Shaw. He was also a winner.  

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