Shaw was 17 years old and in his first year of the Ontario Hockey League. He was in no way an intimidating figure at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, but just as he does today, he carried himself and talked as if he was a giant.
It was the 10th game of the season, and Shaw, who played for the Niagara IceDogs, was hearing it from Robertson near the opposing team’s bench. Shaw hadn’t been in a fight in his junior career, and Robertson wasn’t exactly the ideal first opponent as he stood about four inches taller and had weight on him. But Shaw felt he was being challenged and had to do something.
The two players dropped gloves. Shaw threw punches like a madman and landed a couple. Robertson fell to the ice and the referee stopped the fight. Shaw clenched his fists and flexed his arms as he skated to the penalty box.
“I stood up to him,” Shaw, now 23, said recently. “He was calling me out in front of their bench, and I had enough of it. I stood up for myself and did pretty good there.”
Shaw hasn’t backed down ever since. Whether it’s been stepping up to larger opponents, never giving up his dream of playing in the NHL despite being bypassed in two drafts or proving he could stick in the NHL despite his size, Shaw has always been up for the challenge.
“A number of factors went into the credit for his development,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “First and foremost, he’s a guy who showed a lot of determination after being passed over. You start to wonder if people are going to give you a chance. He was given that, and he’s been rewarded.”
Defying the odds
Shaw began being judged from the day he first stepped onto the ice in the OHL. Mario Cicchillo was Shaw’s first junior coach, and Cicchillo heard immediately that Shaw wasn’t good enough to be on his team.
“He came into training camp and everyone thought we should have sent him back to Belleville, [Ontario],” Cicchillo said by phone. “‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m going to keep this kid because every shift he goes 230 mph.’ He’s one guy at the beginning of the year I had to tell him to slow down. He was sticking up for all of his teammates. I told him, ‘Shaw, let some of those guys defend themselves.’ ... Shaw, he panned out for me.”
Shaw eventually panned out, but his story isn’t full of success. Every NHL team wasn’t in collusion against Shaw the first two years he was eligible for the draft. He wasn’t seen as a potential NHL player, so no one drafted him. He had 17 points in 56 games his first OHL season and 36 points in 68 games his second season.
Part of Shaw’s problem was opportunity. He didn’t have a large role with the IceDogs. The best thing that could have happened to Shaw occurred prior to this third junior season when he was traded to the Owen Sound Attack.
Attack general manager Dale DeGray’s bio on the team's website includes the line, “in fall of 2010, DeGray pulled off a blockbuster trade, acquiring Andrew Shaw, Matt Petrgrave, Andrew Fritsch from the Niagara IceDogs.” The move led to the Attack playing for the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup, and Shaw getting a chance to show he had NHL potential.
“For him, it was a little bit of a perfect storm,” DeGray said by phone. “He came to Owen Sound basically as an under-utilized and under-appreciated type of player. In fairness to NHL scouts, if they don’t play in juniors how they are going to play in the NHL?
“Once you get a clean slate, you get a clean slate. Paint us a picture of what you want on that slate. It was ever improving on a daily basis what we saw. Where the perfect storm comes in is we had a very good team, we went to the Memorial Cup and he was a big part of it.”
Blackhawks amateur scout Jim McKellar had coached against Shaw during Shaw’s first two seasons in the OHL, and McKellar joined the Blackhawks that third year. He had seen Shaw’s development and certainly took future notice when Shaw had 22 goals and 32 assists in 66 games during the regular season and had 17 more points in 20 playoff games.
Behind the recommendation of McKellar and amateur scouting senior director Mark Kelley, Bowman selected Shaw in the fifth round with the No. 139th overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Shaw had defied the odds.
“Most of the time if you’re not drafted the first time, rarely are you going to be drafted your second year,” Shaw’s agent Pat Brisson said by phone. “After that, I would say 99 percent of your chances are gone. Here’s an example of a guy pursued and never gave up.
"It’s something to be said about his character. I use him for a reference a lot of times at the prospects camp we hold every summer. When you look at a player who was bypassed twice, persevering and trying to follow and pursue his dream, he’s a great example to follow.”
As long as Shaw had to wait to be drafted, his journey to the NHL was a quick one.
Shaw attended the Blackhawks’ prospect camp a month after being drafted and made his presence known. He fought for loose pucks, fought for position and even fought a fellow prospect. Shaw caught Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville’s eye. Bowman asked Quenneville at the end of the camp if there was any player he thought could play sooner than later for the Blackhawks, and Quenneville answered Shaw.
“Joel deserves a lot of credit for noticing his attitude,” Bowman said. “First prospect camp he noticed it after drafting him. I was really impressed with him.”
Shaw began the 2011-12 season with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, but he was up in the NHL by January. Aside from rejoining the IceHogs during the NHL lockout, he’s been a full-time NHL player. Shaw played in his 277th career NHL game, including the playoffs, on Thursday. He signed a two-year, $4 million extension in November of 2013.
Shaw is a role player for the Blackhawks. He’s mainly been their third-line center the last three seasons. He’s looked to for his defensive consistency, winning puck battles and net-front presence, which is also utilized on the power play. His shin pads also come into play occasionally as they did in his most memorable NHL goal as he scored the game-winner in the third overtime against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2013.
“He’s a hard-working type of kid,” Quenneville said. “He’s relentless, the type of effort you want out of your team. You see it, and it can become contagious. Just a very workmanlike approach to his game. He finds the way to get the job done that you appreciate.”
The art of agitation
Shaw annoyed Andrew Desjardins before Desjardins joined the Blackhawks.
Shaw ran his mouth and tried to get under Desjardins’ skin when he was with the San Jose Sharks, just as he does with most opponents. Acquired by the Blackhawks in March, Desjardins has learned it’s a lot more enjoyable to watch Shaw work his art of agitation while wearing the same sweater.
“He can be a little bugger out there,” Desjardins said. “He’s a good agitator. He’s got an aura about him that gets under guys’ skins. I think he’s one of those guys who’s great to be around on this side, but you hate playing against.
“Me and him used to give it to each other all the time. Nothing ever came of it, but we used to chirp each other all the time. I’m sure he’s been in chirps with almost anybody. I think that’s an easy one.”
Opponents are made aware of Shaw’s intentions. They know what Shaw is up to before his mouth opens.
“We obviously always have stats sheets on what each player does a little bit,” Vancouver Canucks forward Derek Dorsett said before playing the Blackhawks on Thursday. “Obviously he’s a guy who plays the game hard and finishes all his checks and is always in the confrontations in the front of net and stands in front of the net. You know he’s going to try to draw penalties for him for sure.”
Holding back is easier said than done. In the last week and a half, Shaw drew an elbowing penalty from Byfuglien and a roughing penalty from the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Scott Hartnell. Shaw is second on the Blackhawks with 15 penalties drawn this season.
So what does Shaw say or do to irritate his opponents?
“It’s just usually off the top of my head,” Shaw said. “Maybe give them a jab or two when no one is looking. Just compete. Don’t let them take my ground away from me.
“Getting guys off their game and they’re taking penalties, I guess I’m doing my job. It’s going to give us the chance to score on the power play and create momentum that way. I do have fun with it. It can be more painful than fun. Whatever it helps the team win.”
Quenneville often speaks of a figurative line with Shaw. The right side is drawing penalties and the wrong side is taking them. Shaw has been on the right side more often than when he first got into the league, but he recently ended up on the wrong side when he head-butted the New York Islanders’ Brock Nelson and was ejected from the game on March 17.
“I was pinned up against the wall, just trying to get out of there,” Shaw said. “That point, it’s a little bit of a wake-up call. I got to calm down a little bit. Just play hard between the whistles and just compete for my teammates.”
Remembering his roots
Shaw's performance noticeably was on the decline earlier in the season. He wasn’t producing offensively, and he was constantly being on the ice for goals against the Blackhawks.
Quenneville made it known he expected more out of him, and Shaw took it to heart. Shaw felt he had gotten away from what made him an NHL player.
“I had some downs this year where I kind of had to take a step back and refocus my energy,” said Shaw, who has four goals and one assist in the last six games. “I had to get back to what got me here and what made me successful. It is that Tasmanian devil type of play I have. You know a guy all over the ice, throwing hits, going to the dirty areas. I have to stick to that game the rest of my career.”
Shaw has often worn band on his right wrist to remind him of that. The band read “Ironworkers Local 721.” The band was given to him by a friend from home back when he was in the OHL. He continued to wear it in the NHL.
“I came from a small town a lot of blue-collar people, a blue-collar family,” said Shaw, who is waiting for a replacement band after it recently broke up. “My buddy gave it to me. I wore my last year at junior and kind of been my good-luck charm, I guess. I’ve worn it ever since. I got to remember where I came from. I got to remember my background, remember what got me here. I worked for everything I got.”