When Wichita Falls played at Lone Star this year, Austin Shaw was in goal. The game was in Dallas, in an arena packed with around 3,000 fans banging bells corralled in by steel walls.
“It’s so loud and the atmosphere and the pressure, I think that’s been the biggest adjustment. Just being able to push everything else aside and focus on the team and what you’re doing and be able to focus at the task at hand,” Shaw said.
“Then the speed and intensity is always up there and the kids are always getting better. … There’s always somebody watching and you [have] to be on your toes all the time.”
The atmosphere was new to Shaw, who joined the Wildcats in 2014 for his first season of junior hockey. This fall, Shaw will arrive on Princeton’s campus.
He committed to the Tigers in November, and was ranked 24th by CSS for North American goalkeepers.
But before arriving at the NAHL, the Colorado native didn’t attract much attention. He was drafted by the Wildcats in the seventh round of the NAHL draft in 2014, and attended the team’s training camp in the summer
With two goaltenders, Chase Munroe and David Zevnik, on the roster, Shaw had to fight for a roster spot.
“There was a deadline for cutting down rosters around mid September or something like that,” Shaw said. “It was a little nerve-wracking because there was so much uncertainty whether or not I’d be able to stay or if I’d be traded.”
With three goaltenders fighting for a spot, the team headed to the Blaine Showcase. That’s where Shaw earned his first start, and made 31 saves in a shutout win over the Minnesota Wilderness.
Munroe was traded, leaving Shaw and Zevnik on the roster.
Shaw’s performance also attracted attention from around the country, including Princeton’s coaching staff, which was in attendance.
Several schools showed interest including Connecticut and Dartmouth, where Shaw visited. Despite other campus visits, Shaw narrowed on the Ivy League.
“If you have a chance to go to an Ivy League school and that’s a goal, I think you should pursue that,” Shaw said.
Shaw picked Princeton.
“The campus is obviously beautiful and the academics, they sell themselves,” Shaw said. “It just kind of came down to what felt the best. On that list Princeton just kind of hit everything that I was looking for.”
With a commitment secured, Shaw turned his focus to the season. He played in 43 games, and finished with a team-best .902 save percentage. He finished with a 26-9-3 record and a playoff berth.
In the postseason, Shaw played in five games. He started both games in the sweep over Rio Grande Valley and the last three games in Wichita Falls’ series against Topeka, which the Wildcats lost 3-1. He He recorded a .901 save percentage for the playoffs.
Shaw, a Highlands Ranch, Colo., native, grew up with hockey around him. A child to Denver alumni parents, Shaw was born attending Pioneers games.
“I know my parents took me when I was a baby,” Shaw said. “It was more every Saturday night, as a kid growing up it was kind of something to look forward to every weekend. It was a fun [tradition].”
While growing up, Shaw’s cousins also attended Denver, and Shaw would sneak into the student section.
“It’s just a lot of energy and there’s a big draw for [the] university, so it was cool to be a part of that,” Shaw said.
After spending weekends at Denver hockey games, Shaw knew he wanted to play college hockey.
“That’s kind of eye-opening in terms of how badly do you want to play college hockey,” Shaw said. “I think that was a big part of it and it helped me figure out what I wanted to pursue and what I wanted to do within the sport of hockey.”
Shaw didn’t start skating until he was 10 years old, but when he was younger he was fascinated by goaltending equipment.
“I just thought they were so cool. They have these cool helmets that are painted, the cool pads and all the colors. It was like something I always just had some weird fascination with,” Shaw said.
“Looking back, I’m 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and I’d make a hell of a defenseman. [I’m] huge and could probably be a great D-man, so it’s kind of funny. Sometimes I kick myself wondering if I should’ve pursued a different position but that’s just what I stuck with.”
Shaw spent three years with the Colorado Thunderbirds. After his last season with the team, Shaw was drafted by the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. But he spent a season with the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders before playing at Wichita Falls.
“Growing up and then moving into this whole world of junior hockey, you can really start to beat yourself up about who’s getting drafted in the USHL, what league they’re playing in, not making a team, making a team,” Shaw said.
“A lot of kids can get wrapped up in that mentally and so I think you just have to stay away form getting in your own head with that and just knowing that everything will work out and just keep working hard.”
Image courtesy of Wichita Falls Wildcats.