August 22, 2015

Sean Shanahan

Sean Shanahan was once described as "an aggressive, bearded forward with the size to make an impact, both literally and figuratively."

The Toronto native was always a long shot to make it to the NHL. He was never drafted, as he was pretty quiet on the junior scene. He ultimately avoided committing to the Ontario Hockey League in order to attend college. He studied and played with the Providence College Friars from 1971 to 1973.

In the early 1970s it was still pretty rare to see a US college hockey player make it to the National Hockey League. Yet somehow scouts found the imposing Shanahan. The Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association drafted him late in their draft, but ultimately Shanahan opted to sign with the Montreal Canadiens.

Trying to crack Montreal's roster in the second half of the 1970s was not an enviable task even for some top prospects with higher pedigrees, but Shanahan took on the challenge with zeal. He apprenticed with the Habs farm team in Nova Scotia for three seasons. Over that time he emerged as a quality role player at the AHL level who played a nice role in the Voyageurs' 1976 Calder Cup championship.

Some of those AHL players were quite desired by other NHL teams, so Montreal made a few shrewd moves. None of those moves turned out to be shrewder than when Montreal traded the rights of Shanahan and Ron Andrff to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for an option to switch first-round picks four years later in 1980. Montreal later exercised its option and selected Doug Wickenheiser No. 1 overall in 1980, passing on homegrown superstar to be Denis Savard. Colorado ended up selecting Paul Gagne with the 19th overall pick.

As if the distant draft gaffe wasn't bad enough, neither Andruff or Shanahan panned out in Colorado or anywhere else in the NHL.

This was all before famed coach-turned-broadcaster Don Cherry arrived in Colorado, but he certainly had a lot to say about the absurd trade in hindsight.

"Can you imagine the management that was here before? They traded first round draft choices with the Canadiens and we got Ron Andruff and Sean Shanahan. Can you imagine? Only one of those guys is still playing hockey now in West Germany!"

Cherry added, in typical Cherry style, "How are you supposed to build a club with trades like that and without first round drafts? I guess they figure they are just going to rely on my genius?

Now Shanahan, who played a physical game Cherry would have liked, had his first year in Colorado derailed by injuries, most notably serious groin tear that really hampered him. He would only score one goal (and three assists) in 30 games with the Rockies that 1976-77 season.

That first and only NHL goal would be among the most memorable highlights of his career. It came against none other than Chicago goaltending legend Tony Esposito in a wild 7-7 tie game.

Shanahan would not be resigned after that lone season in Colorado. The Boston Bruins signed him, but only used him sparingly for six games. He did make headlines though as his arrival came shortly after Phil Esposito was shockingly traded by Boston to the New York Rangers. Shanahan was the first player to dare wear the popular Espo's famed number seven.

Though he would sign with the Detroit Red Wings and the WHA's Cincinnati Stingers, he would only play four more big league games before he had to leave the ice

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