Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Called Ugly, Shanahan Cries

The following is a chapter called "The Grate Combeback" (pp.183-187) from the book In the Bin: Reckless and Rude Stories from the Penalty Boxes of the NHL by NHL Official Lloyd Freeberg (Triumph Books, Chicago, 1998). It's a particularly hilarious story of Shanahan, made more hilarious by his position in the league now.

With the second selection in the 1987 entry draft, New Jersey had a tough decision to make. Buffalo had already chosen high-scoring Pierre Turgeon from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Still available to the Devils was an even higher scorer in Joe Sakic, who was filling the net for the Swift Current Broncos. Having finished the season out of the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, NJ desperately needed the soft hands of a natural scorer, and Sakic's 130 points proved he had those.

But they needed something else more important. Tired of being kicked around in their own division, they needed a big forward who could score knockouts as well as goals. Somebody who would show up, not just in the slot bu tin the corners as well. Of concern to the decision makers in East Rutherford were Sakic's other numbers: just 5'11'', 185 pounds, and only 31 PIM.

The Devils attention began to shift elsewhere, and eventually focused on the Ontario Hockey League, where a local boy from Mimico was putting up impressive numbers on both sides of the ledger for London. Not only were Brendan Shanahan's numbers a perfect match that season, 92 points and 92 penalty minutes, he looked like a perfect match for the rigors of the National Hockey League at 6'3'' ad 218 lbs. As an added bonus best understood by management and groupies, his rugged, movie star looks would undoubtedly help boost the declining box office.

Picking Shanny paid immediate dividends for the Devils. In the following season, they beat the Islanders and the Capitals before they lost the conference championship to Boston in seven games. And while he didn't win the Calder Trophy, Brendan's totals for production (29 points) and protection (175 PIM) made him an important part of the Devil's new-found success.

These numbers would steadily rise to a career high in the 1993-94 season of 109 points and 215 PIM, making Shanahan the prototypical power forward, a force to be reckoned with whether he's carrying the puck or dropping the gloves.

By contrast, Jason York almost sneaked out of the OHL, Detroit taking him 129th overall in the 1990 entry draft. Not only chosen way behind solid defensemen Darryl Sydor and Derian Hatcher, York was taken behind Etienne Belzile and Terran Sandwith as well. What the Red Wings saw, however, was a good-sized defensemen at 6'2'' and a shade under 200 lbs, who played with a discipline that usually kept him out of the penalty box and in the play. In his last season with the Windsor Spitfires, he contributes 80 helpers for 93 total points, while spending less than half that time in the sin bin. Jason had developed a willpower of steel to minimize reacting to cheap shots and wisecracks that would leave his team on the short end of the stick.

Traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for the 1995-96 season, Jason York would have that willpower put to the test, first in the slot, then in the box, with Hartford's newly acquired captain, Brendan Shanahan.

During a late-season game pitting the two cross-continent rivals, Shanahan seemed intent on practicing the late coach Fred Shero's philosophy: to arrive at the net in ill spirits. Shoving his way into the slot for a screen test with Guy Hebert, Shanny came shoulder to shoulder with York, neither one willing to yield that single square foot of ice that could make the difference between a tip-in or a glove save. When push came to shove, the whistle blew signaling a trip for two to the penalty box.

Once in the box, York calmly took his seat, but Shanny was in high gear. Literally standing over me, he kept up a continuous verbal assault on York, who just kept staring out onto the ice as if he didn't hear a word.

"When I get outta here, I'm gonna tear you up. I'm gonna hurt you big time. You're gonna regret it. They'll be carryin' you outta here when I'm done with you."

On and on it went as York continue to silently stare out at the play on the ice. The off-ice officials looked back and forth from Shanahan to York expecting the vehement comeback that never came. Suddenly, a big cheer went up from the crowd signaling a Ducks' score. At that, Shanahan went wild. Eyes bulging, he stepped up his haranguing, hurling insult after insult at the stoc York.

"That ices it. As soon as I'm out, I'm gonna butt end you in the face. They better have a doctor ready cause..."

Just then, York slowly turned, looked directly at Shanahan, and completely without expression said in an even voice: "Why don't you just shut up, you toothless #@%$^&."

Completely stunned, Brendan's mouth dropped open. The expression on his face was one of complete shock as he stared in disbelief at York, who had once again turned all his attention back to the ice. Stammering, Shanahan kept repeating over and over "T-toothless. He called me toothless," as if checking to see if he had really heard it right. Having been routinely picked by the media as the best-looking player in the National Hockey League, Brendan seemed taken aback that anyone would have the nerve to insult his looks.

It was obvious to all that the next step was for Shanahan to try to use his stick either as a javelin or a pitchfork, so everyone started looking for cover. Much to our surprise, Shanahan simply stopped talking, and took a seat in the penalty box bench. Concerned he was merely conserving his energy for a more direct response to Jason, I signaled the linesmen to be ready for Brendan's release. With everyone on full alert, both players stepped out of their boxes, and without so much as a glance at each other, skated directly to their respective benches. Amazingly, although Shanahan and York were on the ice together several shifts during the rest of the game, the promised retaliation never came.

Brendan Shanahan's numbers, both in points and penalties, prove he plays at an extreme intensity level. By contrast, Jason York is a man of few words who let his play do his talking for him. But obviously, when he does speak, he has a knack for saying just enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment