SAN JOSE – Ask around long enough about San Jose Sharks assistant coach Matt Shaw, and all the same words seem to keep coming up.
Head coach Todd McLellan’s eyes lit up when he was asked about his long-time bench mate, and he was quick to provide insight on just what makes those words an everyday reality for his players.
"We have a very common threshold when it comes to trust with each other, and I think that’s a strong thing when you build your coaching staff," said McLellan, who had worked with Shaw for four seasons while with the AHL’s Houston Aeros.
"He’s a workaholic, he looks at the game from all different angles, trying to find new ways all the time. He does a very good job of building a case for a new idea and presenting it. I think the players have a ton of respect for him, and that starts with his work ethic and carries over to his relationship building."
Walk across the hall from the coaches office to the locker room, and that respect is evident.
"I think he’s very calm," Sharks captain Joe Thornton told ECHL.com. "He gives us, I think, just enough information that we can go out and play and he’s not overloading. He gives us what we need and we go from there.
"He’s been with us, this is his third year now, and we know what to expect from him. He’s very, very easy to talk to. If you have questions, you can go talk to him. He’s a great guy that you can lean on and trust."
Of course, it hasn’t always been former Hart Trophy winners that Shaw’s been fortunate enough to work with. Not at all. His professional coaching career started back in the 1995-96 season after having spent some time behind the bench of his alma mater, Colorado College. After two seasons as an assistant with the UHL’s Quad City Mallards, Shaw was offered his first head coaching position with the ECHL’s Mobile Mysticks.
"I really enjoyed the south and I really enjoyed the ECHL, it’s a great developmental league," Shaw said.
"Hockey’s hockey, and I’ve been in the (AHL), (IHL) and NHL now and it’s all the same. The guys skate a little faster, they shoot a little harder, they’re a little bigger, they’re a little smarter up here. But there’s been a lot of players that start in the ECHL and make it, and it’s the same thing for coaches. I really enjoyed it."
After leading the Mysticks to a 35-27-0-8 record and an appearance in the postseason, he moved on to become an assistant coach with the IHL’s Chicago Wolves in 1998-99. He returned to Quad City the following season as their head coach, and took the team all the way to the finals before making the move that would ultimately get him to the National Hockey League.
"Pat Riley and Phil Jackson talk about their time in the minors, they coached at different levels. And it’s really what it is, you kind of hone the things that you do," Shaw said.
"Even as you go up, you do the same thing. You use it as grounds for finding things that work for you. It’s a great experience, and I really enjoyed it."
Shaw joined the Houston Aeros as an assistant coach prior to the start of the 2000-01 season. McLellan was named the team’s head coach the following year, and Shaw credits his friendship with McLellan as playing a key role in his road to the NHL.
"It’s probably like anything else, it’s a relationship business," Shaw told ECHL.com.
"The opportunity to get to Houston and the opportunity to work with Todd; I worked with him for four years there, I think that success helped him feel that I was worthy. We went our separate ways for a while, but then this opportunity opened up. Because of my relationship with Todd, it went full circle and I’m working with him again. But all those things that you did at the other levels, you still utilize in the NHL as you learn every day. You learn a lot of your foundation and your base at the lower levels."
Shaw’s biggest accomplishment at the lower levels of the game was winning the 2003 Calder Cup while he was in the American Hockey League.
"It was exciting because the year before we went to the conference final, then the next year we had a good team, but we were sputtering," he said.
"Some trades were made, and a lot of times at the AHL level you reap the rewards does or doesn’t do for you. They had traded some players that hurt us, roster-wise. It was exciting because we hit a bump in the road right at the end of the season and we changed some things and got on a run. The Stanley Cup final was done, so we were the last hockey in the world that was playing. It was the first time in AHL history that a team had won two Game 7’s on the road to win the Calder Cup."
After seven seasons with the Aeros, he was finally given an opportunity in the NHL as the Minnesota Wild’s video coach in 2007-08.
He moved behind the bench for the first time as an assistant the following season and his now in his third season as an assistant in San Jose.
"He gives us an idea of what the other team is going to do, and he has an idea of what we can to do exploit it," said Patrick Marleau of working with Shaw.
"The main thing that he tries to tell us is that we’re out there and things are going to happen, we have to react to it. He’s going to scout, he’s going to know what the other team is doing. He’s going to give us the tools to work out there to make sure we’re successful."
After a season spent working with the forwards, Shaw’s focus has turned to the defensemen, and Thornton says the transition has been a seamless one.
"If you had a question during the game, he’s always very alert and very informative. He was very calming with the forwards when he was with us. So far this year, the defense love him and love how calm he is. Behind the scenes, I think we see so much that we don’t even know all that he does. But with pre-scouting and with the power play, his plate’s always full."