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Role with Rangers brings Shanahan full circle

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Over the past nine NHL seasons, Brendan Shanahan was a cornerstone of a Detroit team that won three Stanley Cup championships and dominated the Western Conference year after year. But Detroit isn't the only city where Shanahan left an indelible mark, as the high-scoring winger's pro hockey legacy had already touched three other teams before he arrived in Motown:

  • In Hartford, his last stop before Detroit, Shanahan became the final Whalers player to score 40 goals in a season, when he found the net 44 times in 1995-96.

  • In St. Louis, where he served as team captain, Shanahan had two 50-goal seasons and was one of that city's most popular athletes - let alone hockey players - when he left town in a stunning trade for future league MVP Chris Pronger.

  • And in New Jersey, where he began his NHL career as the league's No. 2 overall draft pick in 1987, Shanahan played on the first Devils team to reach the playoffs and later scored 30 goals in the year he turned 21.

  • Now 37 years old and needing just two goals to join the NHL's elite 600 club, Shanahan has taken on a new challenge in signing with the Rangers. In the context of his career, however, the move seemes almost predestined - bringing him full circle to the same metropolitan area where his seven-time All-Star career took flight. This time, Shanahan arrives in New York not as a wide-eyed kid but a wise veteran star eager to set a positive example for young players in the Rangers organization.

    Since leaving the Devils in 1991, Shanahan says he hasn't spent all that much time in the New York area. Still, the lure of the city never left him, and since committing to join the Rangers in mid-July, the memories have come flowing back.

    "I've been going back to some of the neighborhoods that I used to frequent when I was a Devil," said Shanahan. "It's kind of funny now, 17 or 18 years later, to be walking on those same streets and shopping in the same grocery stores."

    Had someone told him back then that he'd still be part of the NHL in 2006, Shanahan is certain he would have laughed at the thought.

    "Back then it was like if you played 15 years, that was a very long career. If you were 30, the clock was like really ticking on you," he said, breaking into a slight smile. "But better medicine, fitness and preparation have really made a difference."

    Joining the Rangers is an NHL homecoming for Shanahan both in terms of his physical environment and the values he hopes to pass along to young players. Nearly two decades after his own rookie year, Shanahan still remembers a pair of veteran Devils teammates who helped him adjust to pro hockey. Doug Sulliman and Pat Conacher - who both began their NHL careers with the Blueshirts -- reached out to Shanahan when the NHL lifestyle was new and intimidating, and he says he will always be grateful for that.

    Another player who had a big impact on Shanahan's early years in New Jersey was Kirk Muller. Only three years older than Shanahan, Muller was already the Devils captain when the two became teammates in 1987. They shared something else in common. Both players were drafted No. 2 overall in the shadow of phenoms from Quebec. Muller followed Mario Lemieux, while Shanahan was picked after Pierre Turgeon.

    To this day, Shanahan speaks of Muller with the reverence he felt as an 18-year-old, and he understands the lasting impact veterans can have on the young players exposed to them. He said he has learned many things over the years, but there is one intangible that he really hopes to pass along to others.

    "There's a certain degree of professionalism that has to do with how you carry yourself on and off the ice. Preparation and things like that," he said. "I was fortunate to play with some great veterans, and now and in recent years, I've been kind of thrust in the position where I'm a veteran player and other young players you notice are kind of looking at you. Some don't want information, but others can't get enough of it."

    Growing up in the Toronto area, Shanahan learned to love hockey as both a player and a fan. He was especially impressed with the heritage of the league's Original Six, including the Maple Leafs, who were his favorite team as a kid.

    "Just the traditions and the histories of the Original Six are something pretty special," said Shanahan. "When you've got alumni who date way back. In Detroit we had Ted Lindsay or Gordie Howe coming down to our dressing room, and things like that. It makes it really special and it adds to the importance of what we're doing. The other clubs are all developing their own traditions and histories, but the Original Six teams obviously have an edge."

    In addition to his unique skill, Shanahan's enthusiasm for the success of the entire NHL is another positive example for young players. He helped reform the on-ice rules that opened up the game last season, and during the work stoppage, he organized a summit meeting to help make sure the NHL returned stronger than ever in 2005. That's no surprise coming from a former winner of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given annually to the player "who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community."

    And then, of course, there is the success factor, which has followed Shanahan throughout his NHL career. He has been to the playoffs in all but two of 18 seasons and has scored at least 20 goals for 17 consecutive years. He has also broken 30 goals in 12 of his NHL seasons and 40 goals in six. Rangers right wing Jaromir Jagr, also on the brink of reaching 600 career goals, enthusiastically describes Shanahan as a "big addition to our team." There is no doubt that the man known as "Shanny" long ago set the standard for power forwards in hockey's most powerful league.

    He could have stayed in Detroit, but Shanahan was eager for a new challenge in 2006-07. He said that watching the Rangers last season convinced him New York was the place to be.

    "I always thought the Rangers had great fans with a lot of energy and a lot of tradition, and New York was always a fun place to play," said Shanahan. "... We did get a chance to play against the Rangers once last year, and they were a different team. They seemed to have a lot more structure, but they still had that offensive edge that is hard to come by. They seemed to be a team that we felt played a similar style to us in Detroit. They were taking care of their own end and getting offense from playing good defense."

    Exactly eight months after playing that memorable game against the Blueshirts, Shanahan was wearing Rangers colors as the team opened its 2006 training camp at the Madison Square Garden Training Center. Filling out his new-hire paperwork, Shanahan was no different from anyone experiencing their first day at a new job, and he was humble enough to recognize that despite all the glory he has already enjoyed in hockey.

    "It's definitely strange," he said of the adjustment to his new surroundings. "And it's all little things. Just having to be the guy to ask where the stick room is. Or asking for directions getting to the rink and all that stuff. ... I'm a rookie here."

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