MEDICINE HAT, AB — They come tough as nails in Wainwright, Alberta.
It boasts a population just shy of 6,300, and is dotted with cattle ranches and oil rigs. The natural, isolated seclusion depicts an old-school prairie town.
That's where Mason Shaw, a point-per-game WHL standout and fourth round draft pick of the Minnesota Wild, learned the value of a hard-earned dollar from a young age.
"It depends on the time of year, whether there's stuff we have to deal with cattle," said the Medicine Hat Tigers captain, when asked about a typical day living in his parents central Alberta homestead. "If that's the case, I'll get up and do my training early in the morning and have the early afternoon part to either move cows or treat cows."
Outside of life on the farm, Shaw admits his golf game should be a bit better, considering the amount of free time he's enjoyed this summer.
"It's gotten a lot better," he said with a chuckle. "It definitely needs some work, I'm not lying when I say that, but it has gotten better."
He's upbeat, vibrant, and confident.
He's the Mason Shaw many Tigers fans expected to see throughout the 2017-18 campaign before a season-ending knee injury derailed what was sure to be a career year.
It's easy to understand the reasons why he's so enthusiastic.
Shaw is freshly inked to a three-year entry-level deal with the Minnesota Wild, despite playing just one game for the club's AHL affliliate, the Iowa Wild, in April.
"I think the biggest thing was a little bit of reward for the hard work that I put in last winter just to get back to that point," he said. "That takes a lot of work to be able to play six months after your surgery."
Shaw went under the knife on September 25th of last year, repairing a torn ACL and damage to the menisus of his right knee. The expected time-frame for recovery pegged a return to the game no earlier than the WHL playoffs.
Much of his rehabilitation over the winter took place in Minnesota, under the close watch of the team's medical personnel.
Mikki Lanuk, the Tigers athletic therapist, also guided Shaw's lengthy recovery. The 19-year-old finally took the ice for the first time in early February, and dressed in full equipment for a solo-skate at the Canalta Centre a few weeks later.
"I hadn't played a game all year, and I was able to keep up with that pace," continued Shaw, noting he gained a ton of confidence after realizing he could play at the pro level. "It was good for my mental aspect, just to be able to be a hockey player again and enjoy just being in the locker room and the laughs that come with that."
Shaw says health-wise, he's 100% ready to go and is positive his knee will hold up seemlessly. Returning to the hawk-eyeing, play-making center who scored 94 points in 2016-17 will come with a bit more game experience.
"I feel like I'm 100% with my knee, with mobility and pain tolerance," he said, noting he wasn't at the same level when he played in April. "As for timing and some of the on-ice things, there's still some room there to improve which probably won't come until I play some more games.
"Going into camp I feel like I'll have nothing holding me back."
Medicine Hat Tigers training camp is less than a month away. Seven players on the roster are born in 1998. That number will be trimmed to three in the coming months, due to WHL overage guidelines.
Shaw is one of those seven overagers, but believes he'll spend the entire upcoming campaign south of the border.
"I've talked through Minnesota staff and it sounds like my season's going to be starting down south in the States," he added. "I'll take that for what it is. I'll fight to make noise for myself and try to claw for a spot with the (Minnesota) Wild. If that doesn't work out, I'll go down to Des Moines and try to improve my game (with the Iowa Wild) as well."
Until then, the Tigers captain, who unfortunately has never played a game with the "C" on his black and orange threads, will enjoy the remaining few weeks in his northern Alberta piece of paradise.
And from the sounds of it, hopefully shave a few more strokes off his golf game.
"I couldn't tell you my handicap," he chuckled. "But it's definitely above bogey, that's for sure."
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