Shane Churla was selected 110th overall in the sixth round of the 1985 NHL Entry Draft by the Hartford Whalers. He played two years of Junior A hockey with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 1984-85, while compiling 370 minutes in penalties in 70 games.
It was obvious that for Churla to be successful in the NHL, he was going to need to continue his hard-nosed play and act as an enforcer to protect the team's more skilled stars. In his first pro season with Binghamton in the AHL, Churla took his job to heart, spending 306 minutes in the penalty box. He was even more truculent to start the following season, collecting 249 minutes in penalties in just 24 games. Projected over 80 games that total would have reached an unbelievable 830 minutes, but Churla was called up for 20 games with the Whalers, where he had a single point and a relatively toned-down 78 minutes in penalties.
After another two games with Hartford in 1987-88, Churla was sent to the Calgary Flames, but on a team already loaded with toughness, his tenure ended less than a year later when he was sent to the Minnesota North Stars, the organization where he spent the bulk of his NHL career. During his first full season in 1989-90, Churla played in 53 games, scoring two goals and five points while spending 292 minutes in the sin bin. The following year, Churla and the North Stars advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup finals where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins four-games-to-two.
In 1993-94, the North Stars franchise moved to Dallas and was re-named simply the Stars. Churla remained with the team until midway through the 1995-96 season when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings, who were in the market for policemen to protect the likes of Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri. However, Churla's stay in Los Angeles lasted all of eleven games before he was on the move again, this time to the New York Rangers. Churla appeared in 45 games for the Rangers in 1996-97, before retiring. He played in 488 games, scoring 26 goals and 71 points with 2,301 minutes in penalties.