Let’s make one thing clear: Brendan Shanahan never used fighting as a tactic. There was nothing strategic or calculating about it. From the time he was seven years old, he knew what it was to defend himself or someone close to him. His father, Donal, was a big, strong man who preached pacifism, but as a child, the future Hockey Hall of Famer often could be found rolling around on sidewalks and lawns in suburban Toronto, taking on physical challenges the way kids often have to in order to prove their mettle.
It was simple, really: he either did the beating up, or was the beaten-up.
So as he got older and Shanahan’s two sporting loves – hockey and lacrosse – came calling, he was naturally prepared for what came next. That is, to a degree. Like everyone who goes from playing for fun to playing for keeps, he still needed an education. His experiences in major junior and the NHL created arguably the archetype of the modern-day power forward of the 1980s: a player who could give as good as he got, who had a universal respect for his fairness, and who never asked anyone else to settle his scores.
And those experiences, that education and that evolution still guide him – through his first off-ice career as the NHL’s chief disciplinarian, and now as the new president and alternate governor of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Shanahan showed up in London, Ont., in 1985 to play for the Ontario League’s Knights as a high first-round pick, tall and lanky and just 16 years old. As such, he was a target for opponents right off the hop. Then-Knights coach Don Boyd and team brass were surprised when they saw him more than hold his own in his first OHL fight – and Shanahan quickly realized a no-guff-taken attitude carved out a bigger place for him on the ice.
“It got me respect and room and space to score goals and be a better player,” Shanahan said. “There was no advantage growing up to being a decent fighter, but I found that during my first trip through each team I got treated one way, and my second trip through each team, I got treated differently.” Read more