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Speed of skating and speed of thought

By Sarah O. Swenson

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BELLEVILLE, Ont. (21/01/12) - Alex, Darlene, Doug, and Jason Shaw gather for a quick family portrait in their Belleville home on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012. Alex is holding a picture of her brother Andrew, taken during his first ever NHL game and gifted to the family from a Chicago fan. Photo by Sarah O. Swenson.

The new year couldn’t have started out better for Belleville’s Andrew Shaw. He is currently living out every boy’s fantasy: earning a living playing professional sports.

Eleven games into his NHL rookie season, Shaw has tallied up seven points (five goals including one game winner and two assists), a plus/minus rating of one, and nine penalty minutes.

But the climb to the top wasn’t easy or swift.

Shaw comes from a sporting family. Parents Doug and Darlene have been involved in coaching local clubs and brothers Josh and Jason both play hockey (Jason is currently playing defence for the Belleville Bulls), while his older sister, Alex, is an accomplished figure skater.

Despite being what many scouts would consider an ‘undersized player’, Shaw found success in the Quinte Red Devils AAA hockey program before moving up to play with the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs.

Small stature may have been a contributing factor that led to being drafted so late, but Shaw has never let that hold him back.

“He’s not very big but he plays like he’s 6’6,” says his father, Doug. “He goes to the dirty areas, fights in the corners.”

After being traded from the Niagara Ice Dogs to the Owen Sound Attack in 2010, Shaw seemed to take the trade as a wake up call and stepped up his game.

“He just put his head to the grindstone,” says Darlene, Shaw’s mother. “He just decided he wanted to play a different calibre of hockey.”

Shaw was named the 2010 recipient of the Robinson-Kelleher Memorial Award, for being the Belleville athlete of the year. He later went on to lead the Attack to their first OHL Championship and then on to the Memorial Cup, where, despite the Attack being knocked out in a tiebreaker round, Shaw led all skaters in scoring. Shaw was also awarded the OHL’s Hardest Working Player Award for 2010-11.

And all of that hard work has finally paid off. Shaw was taken by Chicago in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL Draft, 139th overall.

Shaw started the 2011-12 season with Chicago’s AHL affiliate club, the Rockford IceHogs, and had to adjust quickly to the level of play in a professional league. During a phone call after his first game with Rockford, he was advised by his parents that he needed to work on two things: “speed of skating and speed of thought.” Shaw took the advice to heart.

“In about a month, we noticed a difference,” says Darlene. “Just playing with that calibre of players, what a difference that made in bringing out his natural abilities.”

And as his play improved, Chicago began to take more notice. During the Christmas holidays, with his parents in Rockford taking in a few IceHogs games, Shaw got the call and put pen to paper, signing a three-year entry-level contract and by Jan. 3 it was official: Shaw was finally a Blackhawk.

Shaw debuted Jan. 5 against the Philadelphia Flyers in a blinder of a game. In front of a huge crowd that included 36 family members and friends who had bussed down for the occasion, Shaw became the fifth Belleville-born player to take to the ice this NHL season. Skating on Chicago’s top line with team captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, he logged 12:29 minutes of ice-time, bagged a goal, and faced off in a wild tilt against the Flyer’s Zac Rinaldo, a familiar foe from Shaw’s OHL days.

As a reward for his agitating, high-energy style of play, Shaw has continued to see plenty see of ice-time and earned his place as a central cog in Coach Joel Quenneville’s hockey machine.

And as an unexpected bonus, Shaw has quickly become fan favourite.

Shortly after his debut game, while on an outing with his folks, Shaw was accosted by an autograph-seeking fan just outside of their hotel, holding glossy 8×10’s of his fight with Rinaldo. As an apology for interrupting their day, the fan gave Shaw’s parents a copy of the photo.

“It’s a great picture,” laughs Doug. “You can see the blood dripping, it’s perfect!”

He has become so popular, in fact, that fans have taken to the Twitter and created the hashtag #shawfacts, a sort of Blackhawks homage to the Internet meme of the satirical factoids about cult action star Chuck Norris.

Despite the seemingly overnight success, Shaw and his family are taking it all in stride. They say that he’s enjoying the fame and the underdog status he has and they hope it continues for years to come.

“He’s a crowd pleaser. He likes to entertain the people, that’s what the people pay for,” says Darlene. “The bonus is that he can put the puck in the net.”

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