He wasn’t the best player to don a Penguins jersey. Not by a long shot. But few players in the history of the National Hockey League ever generated more press—or cultivated a more loyal following—than Edward Steven Phillip Shack.
Born of hearty Ukrainian stock, Shack grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. As a teenager he worked in a coal mine and a local butcher shop. At the age of 15, Eddie had a tryout with the Guelph Biltmores of the Ontario Hockey Association. Much to his surprise he made the squad.
The husky youngster’s style soon began to crystallize. He acted on pure impulse, careening around the ice and barreling into foes as if they were tenpins on a bowling alley. Possessing a hard shot and outstanding speed he blossomed into a scorer, pacing the OHA with 57 assists in 1956-57. Impressed by his potential, the New York Rangers signed him to a contract.
Projected to be a goal scorer, Shack endured two largely forgettable seasons on Broadway. In November of 1960 the Rangers peddled the 23-year-old winger to Toronto. He soon hit his stride. Playing on a line with Ron Ellis and Bob Pulford, Shack enjoyed a career year in 1965-66, notching 26 goals.
An underrated cog on four Stanley Cup winners, Eddie gained folk hero status in Toronto. “We want Shack” became a regular chorus at Maple Leaf Gardens. Nicknamed “the Entertainer” for his exuberant style of play, he was the subject of a novelty song titled, Clear the Track, Here Comes Shack. The tune shot to No. 1 on the Canadian pop charts.
Following an off-year in 1966-67, Shack was traded to Boston. As a member of the “Big, Bad Bruins,” he engaged Philadelphia’s Larry Zeidel in one of the most vicious stick-swinging duels ever witnessed.
For the next several seasons the hyper-aggressive winger served as a rental player of sorts, bouncing from Boston to Los Angeles to Buffalo. Still productive, he topped the 20-goal mark at each of his stops before moving on.
The Penguins were next in line. Struggling to keep pace with the Blues and Flyers in the chase for a playoff berth, they acquired Shack from the Sabres in March of 1972 for promising youngster Rene Robert, who blossomed into a star as a member of Buffalo’s famed “French Connection Line.”
Shack provided the immediate spark the Pens had hoped for, not to mention a major gate attraction. Teaming with Ron Schock and Ken Schinkel on the tongue-twisting “Schink-Schock-Shack Line,” the veteran winger caught fire and tallied five goals and nine assists in just 18 games to lead the club into the playoffs. As cantankerous as ever, Shack smashed Chicago’s feisty defenseman Keith Magnuson in the mouth with his stick during first-round action.
The Entertainer enjoyed a solid season for the Penguins in 1972-73. At the relatively advanced age of 35 he scored 25 goals, including a team-best eight on the power play. Although he tallied a highly respectable 59 points in a little over a season in the Steel City, the Pens sold him to Toronto during the summer.
Colorful to the end, Shack impulsively dropped his mitts one night against St. Louis and immediately thought the better of it. Shifting into full retreat, he skated the length and breadth of the ice in a madcap dash to avoid tangling with Blues toughies “Battleship” Kelly and Bob Plager. The Entertainer had finally mellowed. He retired following the 1974-75 season.