There are times when I think as a reward for all the inarticulate athletes we’ve been forced to put up with over the years, the sports journalism gods produce someone like Brendan Shanahan.
The Rangers happen to have a number of good quotes on their team. Jaromir Jagr is not only good for a couple of belly laughs every interview, but is also extremely insightful in his own curious way. Scott Gomez talks kind of like he skates, at a rapid pace and very often shifting directions mid-stream. But he’s also engaging and open, and not afraid to throw barbs at rumpled members of the media.
Sean Avery is always good for something when he’s talking, but that last part has been iffy as the season has gone on. Non-native English speakers like Martin Straka and Michal Rozsival are better than they probably give themselves credit for; and even a rookie like Brandon Dubinksy talks like he’s been in the league for 15 years.
But Shanahan is the rare superstar athlete who is so articulate and thoughtful that when he decides to step away from hockey, he could anchor the evening news. The 39-year-old veteran returned to practice today after missing Monday because of illness, and touched on a number of different topics — from the Rangers’ next possible opponent; to how the mood heading into this year’s second round is different than it was last year going into the Buffalo series; to the chemistry of this year’s team both on and off the ice.
At one point, Shanahan was asked about his future plans. Even in being evasive, he was insightful.
“I’m not even thinking about it. I’m really enjoying this,” he said. “I enjoy these playoff runs and you know, I’m not even thinking about big picture stuff. I’m just trying to play hockey the way I know how to play it and do whatever’s asked of me in order to win games. That’s my focus and the big picture stuff will take care of itself.
“There’s a time in your career when the pressure of the playoffs can eat you up on off days and then you get to a point where it’s gone and you’re going to miss it. So that pressure and anxiety is something you savor. And the last few years, when I’ve been in the playoffs, the atmosphere of the buildings you go into and the atmosphere of our building, I think it’s something where as a pro, you have to learn to smell the roses.”The point isn’t any of this stuff was necessarily headline material, but it does illustrate Shanahan’s agility from bouncing from one topic to another. And it also underscores his value to this team.
I think we can all agree that Shanahan the forward has been surpassed by other players on the Rangers. But his presence in the room is unmistakable, be it in calming his team down after they carried just a one-goal lead into the third period in Game 5 against New Jersey, or in setting the right tone in dealing with the media.