Blackhawks’ rodentry in motion
Veteran David Bolland teaches pesky protégé Andrew Shaw how to get under their opponents’ skin
Talk about courage: At five-foot-10 and 180 pounds, the Blackhawks’ Andrew Shaw took repeated runs at the Bruins’ six-foot-nine, 255-pound defensive wall Zdeno Chara (right) during Game 1.
Photograph by: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Master Bolland: Close your eyes, Grasshopper. What do you hear?
Young Shaw: I hear the crowd, I hear the slap of sticks, I hear the hiss of skates carving through ice.
Bolland: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Bolland: Do you hear the groaning of the enemy?
Shaw: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Bolland: I knew he would be groaning. I speared him in the ribs.
• • •
CHICAGO — And so (with all due apologies to Kung Fu) the education of Andrew Shaw by the master, David Bolland, continues. Side by side now, on a Chicago Blackhawks third line that also contains the imposing Bryan Bickell, they assisted on each other’s goals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, including Shaw’s famous shinpad-enabled game winner in triple overtime.
But that’s not really the lesson. Goals are fine, but Bolland is the master of another skill set altogether. He is the Blackhawks’ high priest of pest. Maybe not King Rat, exactly, in this Cup final — not while Boston’s purposefully infuriating Brad Marchand infests the same sheet of ice — but he’s somewhere high up in the royal family of NHL rodentry.
And this knowledge, he is passing along to the Grasshopper, who turns out to be a darned fast learner. In his first full season with the Blackhawks — well, sort of full; it was only 48 games — the 21-year-old Shaw has stuck his nose in every greasy situation he encounters during his time on the ice, and is gradually gaining the kind of reputation that has made the Bruins’ Marchand a household name among those who admire, and equally among those who despise, the black arts of knavery.
Asked if Shaw is now a full-fledged member of the brotherhood, Bolland grinned: “Could be. He’s graduating soon.”
With five goals in this post-season and a body of work that includes a slew-foot of Detroit’s Valtteri Filppula that put him out of Game 7 in the Hawks’ second-round series, Shaw is more than just a battle-scarred face on a deceptively bruising body.
One game in, he’s already been called an embellisher by Bruins coach Claude Julien, but in truth — as Julien well knows — embellishing is part of every good rat’s repertoire.
“I think in this league, the refs have always kept a close eye on me, just how I play,” Shaw said. “And playoff hockey, you know, they don’t let a lot go.”
No one laughed.
The Grasshopper is going to have to work on his delivery.
Like him or not, though, Shaw is a pretty cool story of stubborn persistence. Thirty NHL clubs passed on him, not once but twice, in the entry draft. The Hawks finally picked him in the fifth round, 139th overall, in 2011, just shy of his 20th birthday.
Less than two years later, this rough-around-the-edges kid, this longest of long shots, is a certified big-time player. At five-foot-10 and 180 pounds, he took repeated runs at Bruins’ six-foot-nine, 255-pound defensive wall Zdeno Chara in Game 1, which tells you just about all you need to know about his courage.
“He’s huge, what can I say?” Shaw said. “He’s a beast out there. Strongest guy I’ve ever played against. But we got to key down on him and work him in the corners and try to tire him out.”
Courage aside, it’s the rest of his nasty arsenal, and a modicum of skill, that will keep him in the NHL, just as it has kept Bolland and Marchand, and plenty of other pests, in the league.
Bolland was a high-scoring centre on the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, but when he hit the NHL, he knew that couldn’t be his game any more. Marchand was a highly-rated junior star, but he quickly found out he had to have other, more unsavoury qualities, to survive in the big league.
“I realized when I came here that I wasn’t going to be that 50-goal, 150-point guy. It’s a tougher game,” Bolland said Friday. “The first objective was to try to stay up in the NHL doing whatever I had to do.”
Marchand’s story is much the same.
“The agitating stuff was really just a way of trying to get into the league and be a different player than some other guys, and try to get a job,” said the 25-year-old, whose sucker-punching of Daniel Sedin and just general abuse of the Canucks so enraged Vancouver fans during the Cup final two years ago.
In that, he is a sort of kindred spirit of Bolland, whose baiting of the Sedin “sisters,” as he called them in a 2011 radio interview was both outrageous and not terribly classy ... but kind of funny.
Marchand is a major chirper, too, as are all the great ones — from Claude Lemieux to Ian Laperriere, Esa Tikkanen (though few could understand him) to Ken Linseman (the original Rat) to Steve Ott to Alex Burrows to ... well, it’s a long and nefarious list.
“I’m not really sure when it started,” Marchand said. “It took a lot of reeling in from Claude (Julien), he talked to me a lot over the years about trying to do it at the right times, and when to get away from it and just play the game.
“(But) if things aren’t going right, it’s a different aspect you can bring out. It does get you more involved, gets your emotions going a little bit, and it’s a lot more fun out there.”
“It’s a fun game,” Bolland agreed. “When you’re on the perimeter and you’re hanging around the sides, you feel like an outcast, you don’t feel like you’re in the game. But when you’re in that hard-nosed game, you’re in the corners, you’re getting dirty, you feel more in the game. You’re there.
“When you see Shawsy running around the ice hitting, or playing that rat kind of role, he’s bound to get a point or a goal if he’s hanging around that net all the time, it’s going to go off a leg.”
“It’s how I’ve always played, it’s what got me here,” Shaw said. “It’s just that killer instinct, you know? I’ve always had it. Both my brothers, my dad had it, that want to win.”
Marchand appears to be something of a personal hero to him.
“He’s a great player, he’s shifty, he gets under your skin,” Shaw said. “I’ve always thought I kind of play just like him, but he’s better in some aspects, so I just have to keep working, keep competing and maybe one day I’ll be like that.”
It’s something to look forward to.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun