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Shanahan thrives in Red Wings' new chapter

October 27, 2005


The lethal one-timer is still there. But now there's also a tip-in, a rebound, even a banked shot.

The aesthetic side of Brendan Shanahan (as told to Helene St. James):

Favorite movie: "Forrest Gump."

Last book read: "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't," by Jim Collins.

Jane Austen or Ernest Hemingway? Ahh. Will people think less of me if I say Jane Austen? I like "Sense and Sensibility."... I guess I should say Hemingway. You know, I really kind of, I know it's embarrassing, but I like her stuff better than his.

Favorite Austen heroine: I guess I'd have to say Elizabeth Bennet, just because my wife would kill me if I didn't. Does it have to be a heroine? I can't say Mark Darcy?

But Mark Darcy is from "Bridget Jones," not Austen: Fitzwilliam Darcy.

A day in the life of Brendan Shanahan:

8 a.m.: Wake up. "My wife lately has been letting me sleep in; she's been getting up with the kids, and I've been sleeping in till about eight."

8:15-9 a.m.: Play with twins Maggie and Jack, who are going on 3, and Cate, who turned 1 on Wednesday. "I hang out with them and then tell them I have to go to work. On my way, I stop and get a coffee -- I'm a Dunkin' Donuts guy -- with cream and sugar.

Midday: Practice.

Afternoon: Return home. See who gets diaper duty. "It's just the luck of the draw -- whoever happens to be in the room when it happens gets the short end of the stick. But we're working on the whole potty training thing. It's been interesting."

7 p.m.: Bedtime (for the kids). "That's always been a thing I've really enjoyed, is getting them in their pajamas and reading a book to them and putting them to bed. That's the kind of thing you miss when you're on the road -- that security of them knowing that you're home and seeing you as you tuck them in."

By Helene St. James

The goals are pouring in for Red Wings forward Brendan Shanahan, and though he wants nothing to do with being described as rejuvenated, something is different about him. Entering tonight's game against Chicago, he has 11 points in 10 games, and his six goals trail only teammate Pavel Datsyuk. He used to patrol the face-off circles and the high slot, but all through this young season he has lurked around the net, tipping pucks, pouncing on rebounds, setting screens. He's part of a wildly successful power play, having contributed four goals during man-advantage situations. But to hear his coach explain Shanahan's success, it's not really about the hands.

"He's moving his feet, and he's involved physically," Mike Babcock said Wednesday. "All that other stuff is just cake. If he does those two things -- actually, if he moves his feet, he skates -- everything goes his way. That's the big challenge for him: Don't stand around. Don't watch. Get involved."

Shanahan's early success delights general manager Ken Holland, who pulled Shanahan aside after the Wings lost in the second round of the 2004 playoffs and told him pretty much the same thing Babcock is preaching: Go to the net. Be strong on the puck. Cycle the puck.

How can Holland not be thrilled with Shanahan's play so far?

"This is the best I've seen Brendan skate in a number of years," Holland said. "He's been big and strong and winning physical battles, going to the front of the net, backchecking. This is the best all-around he's played."

Holland noticed something was different Oct. 5 when, with the Wings leading the Blues, 5-1, in the third period, Shanahan fought Jamal Mayers at center ice.

"I think opening night was a big thing," Holland said. "We were up quite a bit. We had a game the next night. They wanted to come out the last half of third period and set the tone, and I thought he stood up and ended any thought of that going into the next night. He's taken it from there."

Shanahan had an assist that night, a goal the next night, a goal and an assist in the third game. In 10 games, he has gone without a point only twice. He has had three two-point nights, including Monday at Columbus. From his point of view, there are a number of reasons, including the coaching change over the summer from Dave Lewis, who largely kept intact the system used by Scotty Bowman, to Babcock.

"I didn't mind playing left-wing lock at all, but there were a lot of responsibilities you had in that," Shanahan said. "Sometimes when I wanted to get in on the forecheck, I had to be back beside our 'D,' or even behind our 'D.' Mike's style of play is a lot more puck pursuit and pressure, and that's helped me be more involved.

"In the past I was maybe more of a shooter, kind of in a higher position away from the net. That was one of the changes as far as my positioning. Mike wanted me down around the net and more for tips and rebounds and garbage goals, and it's been great. There's a lot of action down there, and a lot of competition for loose pucks, and I've enjoyed it. It's been fun. I've been excited about it."

Shanahan spent the first four games playing with center Pavel Datsyuk, but since has been switched to playing with Robert Lang and Jason Williams, a line that clicked pretty much from the moment it was put together during training camp. Lang gives opponents another tough forward to contend with, and Williams has been outstanding retrieving pucks and setting up goals.

"It's just nice, compared to the last couple of years," Shanahan said. "Because of injuries and different things, our lines changed period to period. So nobody really took the time to really talk a lot with your linemates because you knew you might only play with them another 20 minutes or 60 minutes. It's helped that they threw us together the second day of training camp, and we've been able to work together."

A couple of games ago, Shanahan switched from playing left wing to right wing. Babcock said the move was suggested earlier -- either by Holland or Bowman or Lewis -- but that in the end it was Shanahan who came to him, and he readily agreed. Shanahan shoots right, and playing on the off wing is more conducive to one-timers, whereas on the right side Shanahan would be more driven to take the puck to the net. In other words: Move. More.

Shanahan's routes haven't just been coach-driven, though. The new league rules -- which Shanahan helped institute -- have forbidden the hooking and holding that used to greet net-bound players, and that has made a tremendous difference.

"You can't just be held back or denied going to the net," Lang said. "You still have to battle in front of the net for position, but at least you can get there. Before, a defenseman could easily just put his stick out, hands out, and slow you enough that by the time you got there, the puck was gone. I think, especially for his game, that's a big plus because he likes to do that quite a bit."

Babcock has emphasized skating from the start of training camp, and he often has little informal meetings with players. He'll show them clips, and tell them: This isn't what we're looking for. This is what we're looking for.

With Shanahan, it keeps coming back to the same thing.

"If he wants to be a dominant player in the game, he's got to move his feet; he's got to get involved," Babcock said. "He's got to challenge himself to be better. And when he's not playing the way that I think he should be, I tell him. The thing I find is that when you play hard and you move your feet, you get rewarded. You feel good about yourself."

Shanahan said he doesn't feel rejuvenated, doesn't really feel all that different. Perhaps the biggest difference for him is just that after years of playing for Bowman -- who once very publicly blamed him for a 1-0 loss to Dallas -- there's an entirely new coaching staff in charge.

"I'm playing for a coach who challenges me but also supports me," Shanahan said. "He challenges me before we go on the ice each and every period, but I know that he is behind me, and I don't want to disappoint him."

Much is at stake for Shanahan this season: He's 36. He's in the last year of a contract worth $2.28 million. By all accounts he likes the Detroit area and would like to continue playing here. If he continues what he's started, he may just do so.

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