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OHL draft surprise foretold Shanahan's greatness

by Dan Rosen

By the time Brendan Shanahan got to Joe Louis Arena on June 13, 1987, for the NHL Draft, he already knew where he was rated and that the possibility existed for the New Jersey Devils to take him with the No. 2 pick, which they did.

Two years earlier, a slender, tall and somewhat knock-kneed Shanahan stood with an old minor bantam coach inside an arena in Toronto during the first-round of the 1985 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection Draft and had absolutely no clue what was about to happen to him.

"I think my hockey career snuck up on all of us in my family, quite honestly," Shanahan told on Tuesday, shortly after learning that he was voted in as a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.

Shanahan was rated in the 50s, so he was expecting to be picked somewhere in the fourth or fifth round of the 15-team '85 OHL draft. He told his mom and dad, Rosaleen and Donal, that he would hang out with his old coach for the first round and then he would come up and join them for the second just in case he got picked earlier than expected.


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His older brothers, Danny, Brian and Shaun, were up at a friend's cottage that day, expecting to get wind at some point that their youngest brother was picked maybe as high as the third round, if he was lucky. They didn't hear anything that Saturday, so the next day they looked in the paper for the results, but disregarded the first two rounds and called home to complain when they didn't see Brendan's name among the draftees.

However, Don Boyd, the London Knights coach and general manager at the time, had different plans. He strode to the microphone and surprised Shanahan and everyone in attendance when he announced that the team was selecting the 16-year-old from Mimico, Ontario, with the No. 13 pick.

"It was the first pick of the first round where there was an audible shock throughout the arena," Shanahan said. "Really, truly there was. I started walking down to the table and had to look up to my mom and dad and wave to them."

Boyd, though, knew what his scouts Luke Williams, Bob Gerow and Dave Mayville had discovered about Shanahan: that he had a stomach to play the game the right way, in a rough way, and that he would only get better as the competition got greater.

He was right.

Shanahan had two dominant seasons with the Knights before embarking on a 22-year career in the NHL in which he scored 656 goals (13th all-time) and won the Stanley Cup three times with the Detroit Red Wings (1997, 1998, 2002). He also won gold with Canada at the 2002 Olympics, the 1994 IIHF World Championship and the 1991 Canada Cup.

"There was no question that we liked the character we were getting," Boyd told on Wednesday. "We liked the family background and the toughness he played the game with, and I'm speaking about the mental toughness as well. His competitive level was off the charts then, and that was before people talked about compete level."

Little did Danny (11 years older), Brian (eight years older) and Shaun (six years older) know how much they had to do with what Boyd was talking about. They helped Brendan develop that stomach and that compete level the scouts discovered, the two ingredients that helped Shanahan through his Hall of Fame playing career.

"Thinking back now, to be 10 years old, to be playing street hockey with your brother and his 18-year-old friends, hey, there was no crying," Shanahan said. "The rules for the 18-year-olds were the rules for the 10-year-olds. That's where I say they beat on me. If I was in front of the net and they wanted me to get away from the front of the net, they knocked me away."

By the time Shanahan was 14, he was allowed to play on Shaun's lacrosse team. When he was 18, he was playing summer ball hockey with Danny and his friends.

"It took me a long time to catch up with them," Shanahan said. "I was sort of the rink rat watching them play and how they played."

Shanahan quickly discovered in the OHL that the lessons (or beatings) he received from his brothers were worthwhile.

"I developed a good chin at an early age," he said.

So, when he was challenged or dared by opposing players, teammates or coaches in the OHL, Shanahan never wilted.

"In his first year, in Windsor during an exhibition game, there was a large disagreement on the ice and Brendan stood tall, right in it as a very young kid," Boyd said. "The coaches all looked at themselves on the bench and knew right there we had a player that would go a long way in the game. Everybody took notice at that time. He had a very high hockey IQ and we knew he'd be able to play in a physical game or a skilled game."

Shanahan, who was named captain of the Knights in his second season, found out his toughness and stubbornness gave him more room on the ice. It allowed him to improve his skating and his shot, so he could develop the quick release he became famous for in the NHL.

"I realized that first year of junior, starting with training camp and going through the regular season, that it seemed like the older and more close to NHL style of hockey that was being played, the better suited I was," Shanahan said. "Whereas for some players the next level didn't suit their game, for me it played into my game."

It did for 22 years in the NHL, for 1,524 regular-season games and another 184 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Not bad for a career that snuck up on him and his family -- but not Boyd and his scouts.

"We thought we had something special," Boyd said. "Did we know he would be a Hall of Famer? Gosh no, that's on him and nobody else. I think he's one of the guys, when he plays for you or you're just associated with him, he holds a special place with you.

"He was special."


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