He was one of the most feared, fearsome and above it all, beloved of the early Dallas Stars. Through 488 NHL games, Shane Churla collected 2,301 penalty minutes, including a franchise-record 1,833 with the Stars in both Minnesota and Dallas.
Now the head of amateur scouting for the Montreal Canadiens, we caught up with Churla, 52, a few days before the father of two grown daughters was to be honored by the Stars at the American Airlines Center.
Scott Burnside: So, where are you at, geographically, right now, Shane?
Shane Churla: "Right now, I'm at home. I live right on the Montana/B.C. border of all places. Heading for Lethbridge this afternoon. Through a snowstorm, no less. It's snowing here bad already -- big time."
SB: You were selected by Hartford in the sixth round, 110th overall, in the 1985 draft. Did you actually attend the draft?
SC: "No, I didn't go to the draft. I was called -- somebody from the draft let me know I was a Hartford Whaler. But I always say I was the third pick. They were missing a few picks. Sixth round, but the third pick. Third pick sounds better."
SB: Did you expect to be drafted?
SC: "Actually, I was a late bloomer. I came on as a walk-on into Medicine Hat (of the Western Hockey League) the year before as an 18-year-old, and made the team, and was drafted the next year. So, I thought there was a chance I'd get drafted just by the scouts that I talked to, and there was the interest from the agents."
SB: It's a little bit different now with social media and all of the rankings.
SC: "One-hundred percent. You were pretty much in the dark back then, whereas now, you're up-to-speed by the minute."
SB: It's interesting, especially with the expansion draft last June with the Vegas Golden Knights, you were with the Minnesota North Stars and were actually selected by San Jose in the expansion draft.
SC: "All year, we knew that there was going to be an expansion, and there was going to be some players that were going to that team. I know there was nothing but speculation until the day before, I found out the day before it was going to happen. I was then called by the owner, Norm Green, who said they we're going to do everything in their power to get me back and just hang tough over the weekend. So, I never really went anywhere. I was traded on paper and, two days later, I was back in Minneapolis traded for Kelly Kisio, who was taken first overall in the expansion draft."
SB: So, I'm guessing you run into Kelly (who is now a scout as it turns out for the expansion Golden Knights)?
SC: "I do all the time, it's always funny. We joke around and we'll say, 'Oh, San Jose wanted toughness and Minnesota wanted skill, so they kept you and took me.' We do joke about it."
SB: Do you remember your first NHL game?
SC: "I do. It was at Madison Garden -- you don't forget that one. I remember I had a pretty spirited tilt, and the rest was history after that."
SB: Did you know that was the role you were going to have to play to get to, and remain an NHL player right from the get-go?
SC: "In all honesty, I grew up a skilled player. Like I say, I was from a small town, but I was one of the more skilled players in the area. But I was smart enough to know that when I went to Medicine Hat, that I probably couldn't be that guy and I'd have to reinvent myself. And that was an avenue for me to get my foot in the door, and I ran with it, for the most part. I know there was a time -- a point in time with the Stars in Minnesota -- that Bob Gainey, he was giving me more rope as a player. I was playing the second power play. I was getting a lot of quality minutes there. He wanted me to get away from that side of it. But they really never really brought anybody else in, and that was good until the game went sideways and everybody looked down the bench at me again, and I'd go, 'Here we go again.'"
SB: Was that a hard thing to accept, being defined as a tough guy?
SC: "It wasn't hard. It was just the way it was. It was reality. I knew I couldn't play a different way, at that time. I was hoping that it would allow me a time to get my foot in the door and, hopefully, allow me some time for my skill set to develop. As I mentioned, with Bob, there was a time when there were opportunities there, and then the opportunity kind of went by me. Once you're painted a certain way, it's hard to change perception of the player."
SB: You moved to Dallas with the rest of the North Stars and the fan base embraced you and how you played. What were your first impressions of being in Texas?
SC: "We didn't know what to expect. The one good thing about it is it's not like being traded, where you go to a team where you don't know anybody. The fact we all moved together as a group was unique in a way, but it also made our group tighter, because when we went there, we didn't really know what to expect. I soon found out with how they have that football foundation there, they like that kind of smash-mouth kind of play, and they seemed to enjoy what I brought to the table. From Day 1, they treated me like a rock star. It was really a fun place to play. It was probably the best of my career -- it was the funnest time I had over that period of time. The team promoted me as well. They promoted that side of it. Some of that was brought on by them, some of that was brought on by the way I played. It was a very fun period of time for me. The fans, like I said, I've never had better acceptance anywhere that I played in the league than there."
SB: And a lot of you guys all lived in the same neighborhood?
SC: "That was the other thing. They called it the 'Street of Stars.' There was about eight guys that lived on it. It wasn't always great when you were trying to sneak away for a 'team meeting' here and there, and somebody's wife would look out the door and go, 'No, he's not there,' I can see his car. But that was fun. It really brought us together as a group, because we really didn't know anybody else outside our team in the early going. And, no disrespect to anybody, we weren't probably the most-skilled team in the league, but we had some productive years there. We played hard, and it was the same group a couple of years before that had gone to the Stanley Cup finals in Minnesota. We were a workmanlike group, and we did have some skilled, elite guys -- (Mike) Modano, (Neal) Broten, (Jere) Lehtinen, those guys, Modano and Lehtinen were coming into their own. We all lived in the same spot. I didn't live on the 'Street of Stars,' but I lived right behind it."
SB: Kind of like in the Valley of the Stars?
SC: "I was in the Valley of the Stars. Neal Broten and I were there. He lived across the street."
SB: When you retired, did you know right away that you wanted to stay in the game, or did you need to take some time away to clear your head?
SC: "I actually retired on a career-ending knee injury. I injured everything on my knee from my time in Dallas, and then I got another injury with the Rangers that they ended up having to put cadaver parts in, which I later got staph infection, and they had to pull them out. It was knee-replacement time on the next injury to my knee. At that time, it was only about a 10-year life expectancy on those knees, so they told me it was in my best interests to retire."
SB: That must have been difficult to get that news, even after you get a couple of other opinions about whether you can still play.
SC: "Well, it's tough. I think the thing that I missed the most was being in the locker room. Being with my teammates. Some parts of what I did was not as glamorous as it once was. But I really miss the camaraderie of your teammates and being in that setting. So, it was tough. But once you came to grips with it, and I realized I've got to have a quality of life after the game, and I was compromising that if I was to try and come back and play. It wasn't a hard decision after you looked at all the facts."
SB: Transition to scouting and, now, head of amateur scouting. How did that door open for you?
SC: Well, I took a few years off. I took a good part of three years off after, and I actually went to Alaska and I guided out there, hunting. I'm a big outdoors guy. I went out there and did that. I knew it was something I always wanted to do. I got that out of my system and then I missed the game again, and so, I got back in on the scouting side of it and the rest is history."
SB: Did you need time away to kind of cleanse as it were?
SC: "I did. Actually I did. When you play this game and you sacrifice a lot of things, you're not able to do a lot of things because the game comes first whether it's your conditioning or the schedule or what have you. I needed to get that out. It was something I always wanted to do (working as a guide) and finally had the chance to do it, and was glad I did it. Refreshed and recharged the batteries and, ultimately, let me know what I wanted to do, and that was get back into hockey."
SB: You're the director of amateur scouting, so you have other scouts under your direction. How does that work for you?
SC: "Myself and assistant general manager Trevor Timmins, we lead that side of the amateur scouting, as far as we'll put it all together. We do have amateur scouts all over the world who identify guys, and it's up to Trevor and I to put it all together."
SB: How many games did you see last year?
SC: "Last year, I saw 230."
SB: Player development is a key part of every team's success. Do you think you view players differently because of the way you played and how your career went?
SC: "I don't think so. It's funny, it's one thing I've learned. I've been around Hall-of-Fame players. Some of those guys don't get it as far as the amateur side, and projecting and all of that. I don't think it matters what type of player you were, I think it does help that the person was able to be a player and can draw from being a player. I think it's most visible when you can tell when guys are cheating and the average guy can't. 'Okay, that guy, he cheated that play for whatever reason -- pulled up, whatever.' I think those are where it helps you. One thing I've learned on this side, it's patience. You're dealing with kids. It is the hardest aspect of any organization, in my opinion, is the amateur side, and I also think it's one of the most important. If you don't draft well now, you have your pro staff trying to plug a hole. Then, it becomes a circle you don't want to get into, because, then, instead of going forward, you're taking steps backwards and it's hard to push your team forward that away."
SB: So, apparently there will be Shane Churla bobbleheads for your night at the AAC.
SC: "Geez, that'll be a pretty big head on that thing. Are they going to put a broken puck below it? Seriously, though, Dallas holds a special place in my heart. It was a fun time."
Shane Churla returns to American Airlines Center on Saturday, where he will be honored throughout the Stars' game against Carolina as part of the team's 25th Anniversary Reunion Nights. For more information, and to purchase tickets, click here.
This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. You can follow Scott on Twitter @OvertimeScottB, and listen to his Burnside Chats podcast here.