Ian Mitchell approached his locker recently and saw something unexpected inside: an Andrew Shaw autograph.
Then he heard Shaw’s voice, too.
“He said I should hang onto this for a long time because it’ll be worth something,” Mitchell said Thursday, grinning at the silliness.
Even in the season of social distancing, and even at the relatively old age of 29, Shaw remains the Hawks’ inescapable resident jokester.
“He’s the same way,” Mitchell continued. “He makes it really fun to be around the rink. He’s been great to me, just as a younger guy, making me feel welcome.”
The NHL’s strict-yet-necessary COVID- 19 protocols have made team bonding especially difficult this season.
Players must spread out and wear masks in locker rooms, and as of Thursday, all lockers must be 6 feet apart. On the road, players are each assigned hotel rooms without roommates and are not allowed to mingle, which Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals learned the hard way earlier this season. Players can’t go out to dinner together, and can only sit three-to-a-table for team meals.
The rules are designed to discourage socializing, so much that 2020 free-agent signing Mattias Janmark said after training camp there were some new Hawks teammates he “barely met at all until our plane ride to Tampa.”
The rules are only getting tighter over time, too. But Shaw has still found ways to mess with his teammates just as much as his younger self did.
Not even the pandemic can muzzle the mutt.
“Obviously there’s a lot of new faces, lot of new guys [this season],” he said Thursday. “It’s great to see, it’s awesome to be a part of. The energy they bring reminds me of back when I was young: You have that energy every day and come in with a smile on your face, love hockey, love what you’re doing. It helps bring the mood up for sure.”
Shaw’s affinities for and friendships with the Hawks’ young players also have allowed him to step into a more official leadership role.
With Jonathan Toews out, leaving a vacant seat in the Hawks’ captaincy pyramid, Shaw has worn an “A” as alternate captain during home games.
“It’s an amazing feeling to have guys look up to you and be a part of that role,” he said last week. “But I’ve always felt like a little bit of a leader. I go on the ice, and I work hard, and I compete and I bring whatever I can to each game. I think that’s why I have the letter . . . I hope some of the young guys see that and [it rubs] off on them, as well.”
Shaw’s harmless pranks and goofy personality harmonize particularly well with this Hawks team because so many of its other veteran leaders are rather serious.
Mitchell, for example, has mentioned both Shaw and Duncan Keith several times each as big influences on him, and their dispositions are extremely different.
Mitchell and Keith have bonded over their shared Western Canadian roots — Keith was born in Manitoba and now lives in British Columbia; Mitchell grew up in Alberta — and dry senses of humor.
“You don’t know if he’s joking or not,” Mitchell said of Keith. “I just try to give it back to him when he’s kidding around, and I think maybe he likes that a little bit.”
Shaw, meanwhile, is not so tough to read.
He’s always joking. And with good reason.
“Coming into the league as a young guy, it’s hard to feel at home,” Shaw said. “You’re shy, you’re quiet, you don’t like stepping on anyone’s toes. I just like messing around with [Ian], keeping the mood light, making sure he knows it’s OK to be himself. We welcome him with open arms and have some fun while we’re here.”