He used to lie about his summer vacations. Said he did the most incredible things. Ran with the bulls in Pamplona. Was a ball boy for Andre Agassi at the U.S Open. Played backup goalie for the Irish World Cup team. Anything that would startle and impress.
Brendan Shanahan told these lies because reporters were gullible enough to believe them, because he got a kick out of it, but mostly because the lies were better than the truth.
The truth was boring.
The truth was hanging around, and more hanging around. The truth was last year, when he went fishing and found a TV that got ESPN so he could watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Usually, it hurts too much to watch once you’re eliminated,” Shanahan says, sitting by his locker Tuesday afternoon, “but last year, with Hartford, we were so out of it, I figured why not?”
Times change. The Wings begin the playoffs tonight, with Shanahan in many ways the central figure, the new face, the leading scorer, the sniper, the game-breaker, the guy fans are hoping will be immune to whatever virus has slowed the Red Wings in postseasons past.
Which is fine by him. Brendan Shanahan is looking for a legitimately great summer story — one that involves a Stanley Cup parade, somewhere through downtown Detroit.
“This city is so different than Hartford,” he says, “there was such a lack of interest there.
“Here, you can’t go anywhere without people asking about the playoffs. I know people buying tickets here. It makes me feel more involved. I’ll drive down streets these days and see houses with Red Wings banners hanging from them. I didn’t see a whole lot of that in Hartford.”
“I feel like the new guy all over again.”
Detroit is his kind of Hockeytown
Remember that Shanahan has never seen the octopus tradition, has never seen the postseason introductions, or heard the special playoff songs. He does not know of hockey springtimes in Detroit, the energy and the dreams that steam up Joe Louis Arena for the coming weeks.
And in some ways, maybe that’s good. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Memories can weigh you down. Paul Coffey and Keith Primeau, the players for whom Shanahan was traded, both had been Red Wings for a while. It didn’t help in the playoffs. Spring after spring, fans counted on them to come up big, and at times they did, but in the big rounds, they did not. Coffey’s stay here will forever be shadowed by the images of him lying on the ice as New Jersey scored a game-winner in the 1995 Stanley Cup, or falling in disbelief after knocking the puck into his own net last year against Colorado.
Primeau will be recalled by his constant ducking of reporters who wanted to know why he wasn’t playing better when it counted.
Enter Shanahan, 28, the new guy with the wicked shot. He knows about the Wings and their playoff weight. He knows about the Stanley Cup drought. He also has seen worse.
“I got a little problem if people call what’s happened here playoff failure. They should try playing in Hartford.
“Hey, we’re gonna lose some games in these playoffs, but we’re also going to win some big ones. It’s just a matter of getting hungrier from the losses, and not throwing them on your back and weighing you down.”
I like that answer. There’s a little moxie there. And a little perspective. Which should come as no surprise from a guy who can punch out most players in the NHL, yet memorizes movies, works the Internet, was photographed for Sports Illustrated with a book of W.B. Yeats poetry covering his face, and has endured the heavy sadness of watching his father slowly die from Alzheimer’s disease.
You think a little bad playoff history is going to throw a guy like that?
‘He smells the hot ice, and he goes there’
So tonight it begins, against St. Louis, an interesting series for Shanahan. The Blues, you recall, traded him to Hartford. He’d been a big star in St. Louis, a charitable hero with commercial endorsements and his own radio
show. They loved him there.
“I think that will probably change now,” he says, grinning.
Then again, he tends to underestimate himself. Ask veteran teammates about Shanahan — guys who might have reason to undersell him — and all you get is praise.
“He’s a great presence in the locker room,” says Steve Yzerman, “and he’s a sniper on the ice. He can score from anywhere.”
“He is leadership and determination,” says Igor Larionov. “And a natural goal scorer.”
Asked what “natural” means, Larionov smiles.
“He smells the hot ice, and he goes there.”
Well, that’s a new one. Smells the hot ice. I like that. I like the toughness he brings. I like the way he answers a question about the Blues’ legendary goaltender, Grant Fuhr.
“I remember this movie about Ty Cobb,” Shanahan says, “where Cobb says,
‘A good hitter believes the pitcher is more afraid of him than he is of the pitcher.’ “
So tonight, the trade that shook this town really begins to show its dividends. The Wings want a leader who will upgrade his game, not stall it. Shanahan, on paper and in personality, seems a perfect fit. He likes the spotlight, he appreciates being here, and he can’t wait to weave a story about what he did in the summer of 1997. Fine. Let’s give ’em something to talk about.
Something true, I mean.