Friday, February 5, 2021

Brad Shaw Autographed Card

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The Gatineau/French Ottawa region's main newspaper Le Droit made an interesting parallel today betweeen the current edition of the Ottawa Senators and the first-year expansion team their uniforms reverted back to this season, noting that original captain Laurie Boschman makes it a point to watch every Sens game this season, and comparing the teams' respective records after 11 games (1-9-1 in 1992-93, 2-8-1 in 2020-21, both teams winning their first game by a 5-3 score).

One of my favourite players from that first edition of the Sens was Brad Shaw, one of seven (!!!) former Hartford Whalers on the inaugural team (with Peter Sidorkiewicz, Norm Maciver, Sylvain Turgeon, Jim Thomson, Jody Hull, and Steve Weeks), to go along with a handful of former Buffalo Sabres and nearly the same amount of former New Jersey Devils. Add that up, and it's no wonder the team finished with 70 losses in 84 games, including a span of 20 in 21 games, with a tie against the Sabres thrown in for good measure.

Shaw looked like a hockey player, quick on his skates, a wonderful passer, decent if not flawless defensively (seasons of -47 and -41 in Ottawa were more a testament to the team's lack of depth and how often he had to be thrown on the ice than any additional danger when he set foot out there). He was a top point producer in the OHL, AHL and IHL, and his point-per-game average was better in the playoffs than in the regular season in each of those leagues, which is a testament to how he could elevate his game in important moments. Unfortunately, despite making the All-Rookie Team with the Whalers in 1989-90, his time in Ottawa burned his NHL bridges in the mid-1990s, which is why he suited up with the Atlanta Knights (1994-95) and Detroit Vipers (1995-99, where he was officially a player and assistant-coach) until he had a late-season surge with the Washington Capitals (4 games) and St. Louis Blues (12 regular-season games, 4 in the playoffs) to close out the millennium.

Still, for me, with the All-Rookie credentials in Hartford and a co-captaincy with the Sens in 1994-95 after the team bought out Boschman, he'll always remain a member of those two teams first and foremost in my mind.

He retired as a player following his short stint with the Blues and immediately (re)turned to coaching, as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL), as head coach of the Vipers (IHL),then assistant with the Springfield Falcons (AHL), Cincinnati Mighty Ducks (AHL), assistant (first half) and head coach (second) with the New York Islanders (NHL, 06), nine seasons as either assistant- or associate-coach with the Blues under four different head coaches (NHL), and his most impactful tenure, assistant to John Tortorella with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It is in Columbus that he helped forge the team spirit that has produced results year in and year out despite improbable odds, a high roster turnover (mostly of star players) and strong divisional rivalries. After all, the Metro Division is home to the Caps and Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of three of the last five Stanley Cups.

Today's Sens are closer to the 2007 Pens than the 1994 Senators, however, full of promising young guys who just need to adjust to the speed of the NHL game and learn to win as a team. And those uniforms are just amazing, as seen on card #151 from Fleer's 1994-95 Fleer Ultra set:
It's one of my favourite NHL uniforms. Shaw signed the card during his short time with the Isles. Of those hard times in Ottawa, he says:
They say you learn more in defeat than victory; I can say we learned more than anybody in the league that year. It was hard, but each day you have to remind yourself that you're priviledged to play in the NHL. (...) And some veterans tried to lighten the mood up; Doug Smail once got up and said: "guys, it's not that we're a terrible team, it's just that we're playing in a very good league" - the entire room had a good chuckle.
Nearly half the players on that team never suited up for another NHL club afterwards, but the vast majority kept playing, either in minor leagues or in Europe. I admire their dedication and resilience.

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