Out of all the players the Montreal Canadiens could have as their You Can Play ambassador for diversity, equality and inclusion, they have Andrew Shaw.
Yes, Andrew Shaw.
The same Andrew Shaw who shouted a homophobic slur at an official as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks during the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year.
He made no excuses. He learned from it. He volunteered for this. He embodies the change the NHL, the NHL Players' Association and You Can Play are trying to make as they partner for Hockey Is For Everyone month in February.
Perhaps no NHL player could make a bigger difference.
"We're fully supportive of this," said Jillian Svensson, vice president of development and operations for You Can Play, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the LGBTQ community and fighting homophobia in sports. "At the end of the day, the You Can Play message is about making people aware of the impact of their language."
Video: CGY@MTL: Andrighetto, Shaw connect to open scoring
Shaw shouted the slur after taking a penalty in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round against the St. Louis Blues. He was caught on video, and it went viral on social media. The NHL suspended him for Game 5 and fined him $5,000.
In a press conference after he was disciplined, his voice choked with emotion as he apologized, insisted he wasn't that type of person and promised he would never use that word again.
"I mean, I get it," Shaw said then. "It's a hurtful word."
You had to wonder: Did he really get it? Did he really understand that this was a reason a gay player might not feel comfortable coming out in the NHL? Was he sorry for what he said or sorry he got caught? Was he just saying what he was supposed to say to do damage control?
Anthony Alfano, a Blackhawks fan who plays for the Chicago Gay Hockey Association, told the Chicago Tribune then that Shaw could live up to his apology with his future actions.
"It has to go beyond a simple, 'I'm sorry,' " Alfano told the Tribune then. "Words like that have meaning, and the fact that he said it is evidence enough that it is ingrained in the culture and discourse within professional sports. I think he needs to take his statement to heart and take steps to truly learn from his mistake."
Shaw grew up hearing that word at school and in locker rooms. He used it at an emotional moment mindlessly, not stopping to think about what it meant or the larger effect it had.
"I've never had anything against the gay or lesbian community at all," Shaw told NHL.com. "I have friends that are part of that community."
This forced him to be mindful.
After the press conference, Shaw asked to see Chris Hine, a Blackhawks beat writer for the Tribune. Hine is gay. They spoke privately.
"It hit him pretty hard," Shaw said. "We had a good relationship in the locker room. I was always friendly to him. After the whole situation, I got to sit down with him and apologize personally to him, and he shared his experiences with me growing up and how hard it was on him. I took it to heart."
The Blackhawks traded Shaw to the Canadiens in the offseason. Each NHL team is designating a You Can Play ambassador, and when the Canadiens asked for volunteers, Shaw went to captain Max Pacioretty and told him he wanted to do it.
"With my background and what I went through last year, the stuff I learned, I thought I would be the best candidate for the role," Shaw said.
Some asked Shaw if he was sure. This was Montreal, the craziest media market in the League. This would dredge up what happened last year and invite skepticism and cynicism. Was he just doing this to repair his image? Was this just a PR stunt? Was he sincere? The easier thing to do would be to sit back, be quiet and let someone else do it.
Shaw decided to do it, anyway.
"I think it shows how he also wanted to put his words into action, that he wasn't just sorry, that he wanted to make amends for this, that he actually wanted to do something that really shows how strong an ally to the community he is," Alfano told NHL.com. "To come out and put his name on this and be an ambassador really holds him to a higher level now. I think fans and people in the LGBT community are going to kind of hold his feet to the fire on it."
Hine told NHL.com: "I know some people might have a little pause when they think of his history with it and what happened last year, but I think he might be in as good a position as anybody to be an ambassador for this. … I don't think a lot of straight people, and a lot of straight athletes specifically, know the impact that that word can have, but now he does, and I think that can help inform him in whatever he does with this role. I think it's great."
Shaw said this would be more than symbolic. If he hears someone using the language he did, he will sit them down, tell them what he did, tell them what he learned. If hockey is for everyone, everyone needs to feel welcome.
"I learned that words are hurtful," Shaw said. "They affect people. Even though you might not think they do, they cut deep into some. It's not right. …
"It's not going to be something that changes overnight. It's going to be something we've got to work on and make sure we hold each other accountable for what we do and just learn from our actions. …
"If I can help even just a few people realize that, a little help can go a long way."