MONTREAL - Growing up, Andrew Shaw was lucky enough to have one of the most active hockey moms around.
Darlene didn't just transport the future two-time Stanley Cup champion to and from practices and games in Belleville, ON, and look on from the stands; she actually laced up her skates and got right down to work alongside him.
"I coached Andrew and his younger brother, Jason, with their first rec teams, Tyke Selects and Novice Minor AA, when they were six or seven years old. That's when they were the 'Bobcats.' I was willing to give it a try. I wasn't the best skater, but I always made sure that I had the best people around me," said Mrs. Shaw, who was also an avid broomball player and whose love of hockey dates back to her own childhood, when her father would take her to Junior games.
"I made a lot of tough decisions on the bench, like who would go out there on the ice. But during practices I learned right along with the kids. I would bring in skating instructors and skills coaches. That wasn't just for my boys, but for the whole team," added Mrs. Shaw, who also expanded her hockey knowledge with the help of her husband, Doug, a long-time coach in his own right.
Darlene is just as involved with her son's hockey career now, albeit from a distance, of course. She's a fan in every sense of the word, often making the nearly four-hour drive with Doug to watch Andrew suit up in Montreal. Seeing him develop into one of the grittiest forwards in the League and watching him succeed in his young career is a huge source of pride for the mother of four.
"It's very gratifying, believe me. You sit there and you watch, whether you're actually at the Bell Centre in person or watching on TV. Your heart just beats loudly. You're maybe the only person in the room, but it doesn't matter," said Mrs. Shaw, a retired bookkeeper. "We enjoy hockey. We enjoy watching him. It's exciting. He's heading into his seventh year, and it feels like the whole six years have flown by. It seems surreal."
While Andrew's accomplishments continue to make Darlene smile, the Habs forward stresses that the admiration is mutual and when it comes to toughness, he knows exactly where his gritty roots come from.
Back in October 2012, Darlene was diagnosed with breast cancer and required a mastectomy. Two tumors and a third mass were removed during the procedure. At the time, she insisted that Andrew remain with the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL affiliate in Rockford, IL, but he quickly returned home to spend a week-and-a-half with her and the rest of the family following the diagnosis.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best. Surgery revealed that the tumor hadn't spread from the breast tissue. Her lymph nodes were clear and the cancer was non-aggressive in nature. Her physician confirmed that no additional treatment was required other than taking a daily dose of medication for 10 years along with regular checkups every six months.
"You have to admire it. She wants you to live your life. She doesn't want you to see what she's going through. She just pushes herself through," said Shaw, on Darlene's cancer battle and subsequent recovery. "But you want to be there to help her, catch her when she falls, and push her when she has a bad day. She was great through the whole process.
"You learn from it, grow from it and become a more powerful family together. My mom never wanted us to miss anything. She never wanted us to feel sorry for her. She just wanted us to enjoy our lives and she would do the same," continued Shaw, a fervent supporter of the NHL's annual Hockey Fights Cancer campaign.
According to the Canadiens' forward, Darlene is doing just that, making the most of her retirement to spend quality time with her children whenever possible, putting in overtime to dote on her grandkids. Given everything she's been through in recent years, Andrew couldn't be happier to see her doing well and thriving.
"She's gone to watch my younger brother play for UOIT. She's always at my sister's house helping out with her grandson William. She'll go down to Chicago to visit my older brother Josh. She's there to support all of her kids through thick and thin. That's what mothers do," said Shaw. "Hockey moms are the best moms. They know what it takes to get their kids to where they've gotten to. I couldn't have done it without her. I owe her a lot."