Andrew Shaw will take his last stride onto United Center ice Thursday.
The fan favorite will be honored before the Blackhawks face the Canadiens, his other former team.
Eleven months since his last game and nine months since he announced his unofficial retirement because of repeated concussions, the ceremony finally will give Chicagoans an opportunity to send him into his post-hockey life in style: with a roar. And he already knows that sound will unleash a flood of nostalgia.
“I’m sure it’ll be a roller coaster of emotions: excitement, happiness, even a little sadness,” Shaw said Wednesday. “You get 10 great years out of hockey, playing in the NHL for two great organizations, winning two Stanley Cups. Not it all being taken from you, but not being able to do that [anymore], it’ll be emotional. But I look forward to it.”
Shaw, 30, has spent the last year almost exclusively with his family — particularly his 3-year-old daughter, Andy, and his soon-to-be 2-year-old son, Dax — back home in Belleville, Ontario.
He hasn’t pursued an off-ice job in coaching, scouting or managing — a career path he sounded interested in on his retirement day last April — because he doesn’t want to “drag them around from city to city.” Instead, he has taken up cooking, smoking meats and vegetables and “trying new things here and there.”
“Just to be there to experience [my kids’] firsts for everything is very special,” he said. “I love it. I enjoy making them smile, laugh, play and just teaching them life skills.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t miss hockey, because he does. He has helped mentor a few young players around Belleville but yearns to resume playing himself. His 544-game career was satisfying for its achievements but unsatisfying in its length.
Indeed, if not for Shaw’s infectiously positive outward persona, the way repeated concussions prematurely derailed his career might be seen as one of the greater tragedies in recent Hawks history.
“It’s obviously sad,” Patrick Kane said. “But at the same time, you’re happy for him — [and] happy for his family — that he’s able to stop playing a game and make that hard decision and hopefully have a better life for it.”
Shaw said he feels “great” physically — he still works out five days a week — but only “pretty good” mentally, implying his brain still hasn’t fully recovered from its decade of trauma. He thanked the Hawks’ medical staff for continuing to give him “everything that I need to get better,” but his mental recovery could be a lifelong process.
It’s easier for him to think about all the good times, though — about antics with teammates, iconic goals and fights during playoff runs and the sense of fulfillment every time he met an adoring fan and brought “some sort of joy to their life.” The ceremony Thursday should provide a fitting final reminder of what all of that felt like.
Reminiscing about his prime years brings Shaw’s signature grin back, and it has the same effect on Kane.
“The best thing about him was he never really changed from the moment he came into the locker room [as a rookie],” Kane said. “He was always having fun, excited to be around the guys, excited to be playing hockey. He was just always that young, energetic kid.”
NOTES: Top Hawks prospect Lukas Reichel is expected to make his much-anticipated NHL debut Thursday. Reichel was called up to the taxi squad Wednesday and centered the first line between Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome in practice.
- Erik Gustafsson was removed from COVID-19 protocol, reducing the Hawks’ COVID list to four players and two staff members.