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The Verdict: Shaw, teammates share excitement for return

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Andrew Shaw is excited to return for Game 3 (Chase Agnello-Dean / Chicago Blackhawks).

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.—All of the scarred and scruffy Blackhawks are easily identified out here, but none is quite as obvious a visitor as Andrew Shaw. In a region where half the people are beautiful and the other half is under construction, Shaw looks like a tourist dropped off in the wrong country.

“How about these fancy cars?” noted Shaw, preparing to rejoin the lineup for Game 3 of the Western Conference Final Saturday night. “Back home in Belleville, Ontario, if I drove around in a Bentley or Rolls-Royce, they’d want to put it in a museum.”

Shaw did succumb to a steam bath at a world-famous hotel where the defending Stanley Cup champions sleep between silk sheets. But we didn’t even ask whether he pampered himself with the coconut pearl deluxe pedicure featuring a “eucalyptus and tee tree soak, followed by nail exfoliation, shaping, cuticle care buff and moisturizing massage.” Gratuity not included.

“I’m a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy,” Shaw went on. “And now, I’m back in uniform.”

Shaw missed seven games with a lower-body injury to be specified after the playoffs. It speaks volumes that teammates and an enormous fan base share such open glee about his return to the lineup. On a roster of stars and future Hall of Famers, Shaw is the battery to the engine beneath the hood of a machine.

“I mean this as praise,” offered Patrick Sharp. “As much as we miss him on the ice, we miss him in the locker room, on the plane, on the bus. He’s all energy all the time, and it’s positive energy. After a game like we lost in Chicago the other night, a game that bothered us all, he would have said something, made us forget it, probably made us laugh. He’s a fun guy.”

Shaw admits it is “pretty cool” that he has a place on a pedestal after all those years of being told his dream about becoming a fixture in the National Hockey League was, at best, irrational. We should remember—because he surely does—that Shaw was a fifth-round selection, 139th overall, in the 2011 draft of amateur prospects. That’s after he went untouched and unheralded in 2009 and 2010.

“Yeah, so he really wasn’t picked 139th,” piped up Patrick Kane. “He went seven rounds of 30 teams twice without getting a call. So, he’s really the 559th overall selection.”

Kane, not for the first time, uttered these words within range of Shaw because that’s the way it is when guys live together for nine months. But Kane followed the jab with a bow.

“You have to respect the way he plays,” said Kane. “He puts his body in tough areas, takes the punishment and is fearless. He’s a big part of what we do.”

At 180 pounds, maybe, Shaw is an ode to effort. In that sense, he is eerily similar to Darryl Sutter, coach of the Kings. Before he evolved into a rousing success behind the bench, Sutter was a grinding forward who would not take no for an answer, even after absorbing multiple slaps to his face.

In 1978, Sutter presumed a serviceable junior career would translate into second- or third-round status at the entry draft. Upon discovering that he had been rendered invisible for whatever reason—too slow?—Sutter fumed. When the Blackhawks finally tabbed him in the 11th round, or 179th overall, Sutter did what only a really angry young man would do.

He went to play in Japan. He didn’t know the language, didn’t acknowledge the customs, and spent hours upon hours alone. He also made himself better, by force of will. In 1979, the Blackhawks signed him to a contract, and in his first full season, he scored 40 goals.

At age 24, Sutter was voted captain. On a team of superior talents, he stood as a voice of reason. He didn’t say a lot, but when he did, he was a must-listen. In those days, the Blackhawks were not always organized and peaceful, certainly not as united as management and labor now. On occasion, a captain had to referee intramural taffy pulls.

Sutter broke Bobby Hull’s franchise record with 12 goals during the 1985 postseason, but his abused body yielded at 29. Sutter went into coaching, and in 1992, he got the head job with the Blackhawks. He replaced Mike Keenan, who had been performing two jobs. He became general manager until November, when he had no job. Did we mention that things were a little nuttier then?

If Keenan desired to stay as coach, he encountered pressure to vacate. Sutter was a hot commodity and the Blackhawks desperately wanted to keep him. Who asked for permission to interview Sutter? The Los Angeles Kings.

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