Turn on a radio or TV in the late ’70s and you’d hear Sergio Franchi crooning catchy ads for Plymouth’s Volare.
It was a song Brendan Shanahan heard a lot in 1986, while playing junior hockey for the London Knights and driving around in a used 1980 Volare. But at 17 and living away from home for the first time, he was just happy to have a car.
“You didn’t care what kind of car you had as long as you had a car,” recalls Shanahan, a three-time winner of the Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medallist, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame Nov. 11.
“I just really wanted a little bit of freedom to move around; to get from school to practice on time. I also wanted to have the ability, if we had the day off, to drive home and see my family.”
The youngest of four boys to Irish immigrants Donal and Rosaleen, Shanahan grew up in Mimico, where he excelled at lacrosse and hockey.
With his brothers six, eight and 11 years older, Shanahan was especially close to his firefighter father, who drove him to his games.
But when dementia struck his father, Shanahan took over the driving.
“My father couldn’t drive anymore so I had to drive myself to all my midget games. When I got my learners permit (at 15), I was given his keys. He never drove again.”
“We knew later on that it was Alzheimer’s but, at the time, we just thought my father was having a difficult time driving and was going through some issues,” Shanahan recalls. “We weren’t certain what it was, but he just knew it wasn’t safe for him to drive anymore. He made that decision himself.”
Shanahan’s early driving years weren’t without incident — such as the time he smashed up his mom’s new Hyundai after taking his brother to work.
“I threw on a pair of shorts and running shoes and drove him to work,” he says. “On the way home — I think I was interested in the brand new stereo — I rear-ended a big old Ford.”
Standing by the side of the road packed with rush hour traffic, wearing very little and waiting for the police to arrive, only added to his humiliation.
“There were no cellphones then, so I walked across the street to a plant nursery and asked to borrow the phone. (Mom) answered — it was early, she was just waking up — and I said, ‘I have to ask you a really important question: Do you have insurance yet on this new car?’
“The conversation went downhill from there.”
The promising young star bought his own car at 17 with a $3,000 loan from his agent. “It was a sign of confidence on his part that I could pay him back within the year — and I did.”
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils, Shanahan quickly passed off the Volare to a relative and picked up a new set of wheels.
“I was looking at two very different cars and they were two very different approaches to having a vehicle,” he recalls. “One was a Mustang convertible and the other was an Audi sedan, and I was going back and forth between the two.
“I always liked Mustangs — a fun muscle car but bad in snow — and the other was a safe and reliable, excellent-scores, grown-up car. I remember a teammate saying to me, ‘You’re 18, you’re in the NHL, buy the muscle car convertible. You’ve got your whole life to buy an Audi!’ ”
Shanahan enjoyed his Mustang but says he now leans toward comfort — after all, you never know when you’ll be making an unexpected road trip.
Like the time when league disciplinarian Colin Campbell found video evidence of Shanahan tossing a water bottle at a referee after a game.
“He called me up and said, ‘I want to meet with you’,” Shanahan recounts.
Not unusual — except he wanted to meet later that night at a Highway 401 exit somewhere near Ingersoll.
“So I got in my car in the rain and drove 2-1/2 hours (from Detroit). He was standing outside of his pickup truck. He had his workboots on and had come from his farm. I got out and walked over to him. He sort of pointed two fingers at my chest and he said, ‘Stop f-ing around.’ And then he got in his pickup truck and drove away.”
“Then I got in my car and drove all the way home. To this day, that’s his happiest, proudest moment as league disciplinarian, I believe.”
Having stepped into Campbell’s former role in 2011, Shanahan comes across as calm and measured — in league offices and on the road.
He takes the New York City subway to work during the week, then packs the family Cadillac Escalade with kids, friends, hockey bags and a Labrador retriever on weekends. He admits, the Caddy is a behemoth.
“Definitely, when I’m buying something now, it’s knowing that my cargo is more important than the look or the speed,” says the father of three. “It’s way too big for New York City … it’s horrible to park. I’m constantly having to pull my side mirrors in to get past people on our little city streets here. But we fill it, we fill it on every trip.”
A fan of cars from the ’40s and ’50s, his favourite toy is a silver 1949 Cadillac Series 62 convertible.
“It’s like a ship,” he says. “It’s a beast, but I like to drive it around in summer.”
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