Shanahan’s ties run deep with both Maple Leafs and Red Wings

Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan may be making it his business for the team to take home the Stanley Cup, but his dreams of Toronto winning it all go back a long way.

TORONTO – After trading in his Maple Leafs blue for Detroit red and braving the elements, Brendan Shanahan emerged with a gash dangerously close to his left eye.

The cause of that mystery cut in Saturday’s alumni game? Well, the Hockey Hall of Famer would only offer up a game of multiple choice.

"It was a fight or a shot block or maybe I just fell down and hit (Borje) Salming’s skate," said Shanahan.

The smart money was on the last one, but the exact details weren’t really important. It was that kind of afternoon.

What became clear while watching the old-timers offer up an appetizer for Sunday’s Centennial Classic was that the alumni were playing for keeps in their outdoor exhibition.

"I got nicked up a little bit," said Shanahan. "We love it."

Once a hockey player, always a hockey player.

Today, most of Shanahan’s energy is devoted to overseeing the Maple Leafs rebuild. The president spent almost all of Saturday across the stadium in Toronto’s dressing room – chatting with alumni from the 1967 Stanley Cup team – before switching sides and pulling on the Winged Wheel.

That didn’t raise many eyebrows among a group of former Detroit teammates, many of whom he won three Stanley Cups with.

"When we’re together, he’s a Red Wing," said Nicklas Lidstrom. "We had a lot of success with him."

The hometown crowd certainly noticed the change, especially after Shanahan picked the top corner on Curtis Joseph.

"It kind of was a quick switch," observed linemate Igor Larionov. "Cheering at the beginning but he scored the goal so it was kind of booing. It took like only 15 minutes to change that switch from Detroit to Toronto."

Shanahan retired in 2009 and plays only occasionally now. He joined the Red Wings alumni at last year’s Stadium Series game at Coors Field in Denver and started skating again in recent weeks to get ready for Saturday.

He looked like a guy with 656 goals on his resume on that second-period goal.

What amazed him is how quickly the chemistry returned after getting back together with old friends.

"Paul Coffey said something to me right before my goal," said Shanahan. "He said: ‘Shanny up the middle’ and I said ‘sure, I’ll go.’ And I turned around and went up the middle and all of a sudden the puck was there for me.

"So it’s really funny how you can not play with guys for 15 or 20 years and you say one little word or give one little look and everybody knows exactly what it means on the ice."

In many ways, Shanahan is attempting to build a Detroit-like culture in Toronto. He brought in coach Mike Babcock from the Red Wings and together they’ve borrowed some traditions, including giving alumni members a nameplate in the locker-room and occasionally inviting them in for team meetings.

On Saturday, Babcock had 13 members of the ’67 team along with all of the Leafs alumni in the room when he detailed the game plan to his players.

"It’s one thing to meet them at an event with a suit on, but to be actually in the dressing room and to see them getting ready for practice (is different)," said Shanahan. "When I first got to Detroit and saw guys like Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay walking into the dressing room and telling us things that motivated them and might serve as motivation for us, and the photos of them when they were playing for the Wings.

"When I got to Detroit they were the team with the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL. We saw it as inspiration and it was a reminder again that you’re playing for something bigger than yourself."

The message seems to be getting through.

"He has a very clear kind of path and plan he wants to follow," said Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk. "The way the team’s run, the way he wants the team to play – he has a clear direction for that stuff. It seems he had a vision for what he wanted from us.

"There’s been turnover from management down to the players, and you get to see that starting to come to fruition with the success we’ve had lately."

It’s the sort of thing being celebrated here this weekend. The clash between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs kicks off the NHL’s centennial celebrations and is about yesterday as much as today.

With deep ties to both organizations, Shanahan is in the middle of it all.

"I sort of felt like I had two sets of teams and teammates and friends," he said. "So I was the luckiest guy out on the ice today."

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