MONTREAL - Last March, Andrew Shaw's summer started very early when his season ended prematurely due to injury.
After missing 17 games earlier in 2017-18, the two-time Stanley Cup winner suffered a concussion and a knee injury in mid-March against Dallas. He would need knee surgery that could only be completed once his concussion symptoms had dissipated, and only then could he begin a six-month recovery process before being able to play hockey again.
So when Shaw was asked what he was most proud of following the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign, his answer was both simple and painfully obvious.
"Playing hockey again," he stated. "I had knee surgery, concussions; it was a tough summer. But I don't see my life without hockey, so I made sure I did everything I could to get back and just try to enjoy hockey as much as I could."
Enjoy it, Shaw most certainly did in 2018-19. He returned ahead of schedule and scored in the season opener in Toronto in front of his wife and newborn daughter, and went on to set career highs in assists (28), points (47), game-winning goals (3), and differential (plus-17). Shaw was also just one tally shy of reaching the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career.
Video: MTL@TOR: Kotkaniemi earns first point on Shaw's PPG
The Belleville, ON native admitted later in the season that he sometimes wondered if he'd be able to get through his summertime ordeal, but credits an incredible support system - starting with wife Chaunette and baby Andie - for helping him rebound in such a powerful way.
"There's always that doubt, but as an athlete, as a professional hockey player, I think we're all pretty mentally tough. We push ourselves to our limits. I can't take all the credit for it. My family was always there for me, friends as well, teammates, the organization, they did everything they could for me," outlined Shaw, who set a personal best with a seven-game points streak (2G, 5A) from December 2-15. "I wanted to repay them by doing everything I could for them. Pushing myself to the limit, sacrificing a lot through the summer, through training camp, just to make sure I could possibly have that chance to play again, and push myself not just to get back, but to better than I was when I left. I think doing all that gave me the best chance."
It goes without saying that Shaw's hard work paid off. He knocked off an impressive array of milestones in 2018-19: 100 goals, 100 assists, 200 points, and 500 games. He scored his first career hat trick on February 26 in Detroit, with one of those markers also counting as the 9,500th road goal in club history.
Video: MTL@DET: Shaw nets a hat trick in Canadiens' 8-1 win
Shaw spent the bulk of the season flanking Max Domi and helping the Habs newcomer to a career season. Although Shaw only assisted on four of Domi's 28 goals this season, Domi's Corsi and Fenwick numbers jumped over 5% each when the two were on the ice together.
Shaw, however, could not totally avoid the injury bug this season - he missed 15 games in early 2019 after suffering a neck injury on New Year's Eve in Dallas - but that only gave his teammates an opportunity to appreciate what they were missing with his absence.
"He thinks he's funnier than he is," cracked Domi when asked what Shaw meant to the team as his February return approached. "Shawzy is a big part of this group. We've all voiced how much he means to this team not only on the ice, but off the ice. The character and experience he has goes a long way. He's a great guy. You know what you're getting every day."
Shaw's resolve was strengthened following his return and he led the Canadiens in assists (9) and tied for the team lead in points (11) in March, which helped him crack the 40-point mark for the first time in his career.
Video: TOR@MTL: Domi sets up Shaw for one-time tally
In April, Shaw was announced as the team's nominee for the Masterton Trophy, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The nod was icing on the cake for a recovery and a rebirth that can only be described as a job very well done.
Video: Andrew Shaw on overcoming adversity this season
"It's a great feeling. It's an honor to be nominated. As an athlete, you go through a lot of ups and downs, and injuries are one of them," he concluded. "You can always come back from them as long as you push yourself hard enough and stay committed and do all the right things to give yourself the best chance to recover."