Ryan Shannon may be bypassing the big-time next season, but his heart just keeps beating like Big Ben.
Or better, having scored a three-year deal with Zurich (ZSC) Lions of the Swiss-A national league last spring, it was with a heart clicking like all the time pieces his new home is known for, that Shannon, brought together the usual swatch of high performance hockey players to scrimmage in front of a wall of hollering kids at The Big Assist IV at Terry Conners Rink in Stamford on Wednesday night.
“It’s grown every year and it shows no signs of stopping,” said Shannon, who puts on hold a Stanley Cup-winning, six-season NHL career, skating with Tampa Bay, before being twice injured and once operated upon to end last season. “Candy Wheelock’s done a phenomenal job. The players, you know, they’re very generous with their time, in the summer — the summer is like, their prime time; time for their families. And for them to sacrifice time for this, it means a lot to me personally.”
The annual benefit exhibition game, featuring NHL and minor league pros, and Euro-league players, college stars, raises money for the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation.
“And also, it means a lot for the victims (of spinal injury/disease),” Shannon said. “It changes their lives — it means a lot.”
Tampa’s future Hall of Famer Marty St. Louis skated with Shannon on the Blue Team, also featuring New Canaan Montreal Canadien Max Pacioretty, and Darien native, Union College standout Kevin Sullivan, Ryan Haggerty of RPI, Boston Bruins’ Torey Krug and lots more.
St. Louis couldn’t step off the ice without finding himself corralled to pose for snaps with the fans, and handed all manner of things to sign. He, typically, gladly obliged — non-stop, as did Shannon.
Taking it 9-4 in a spirited skate, the White Team had a big-hit-with-the-kids presence in Rangers rookie spark from last season’s playoffs and national champ BC Eagles top scorer Chris Kreider — who from the ice signed autographs well after the event. Kreider, running the plexiglass-pressed gauntlet of fans lined down the length of the boards.
“Ryan Shannon contacted me — we played together at World Championships — he was my roommate,” Kreider explained of the connection. “Unbelievable guy. I mean — he’s a BC guy, so of course he’s going to be great.”
Even an Eagle-eye fraternity’s not so blind as that?
“No, I’m just kidding, but, he’s an awesome guy, and you can tell just from everything he’s done with this,” Kreider added. “And so I jumped at the opportunity.
“I know a bunch of the guys already down here. It’s a good opportunity to see some of them. But at the same time obviously it’s an unbelievable cause, and one that’s near and dear to me.”
“It seems like every year there is another guy, that is making it to the NHL,” every-summer-Big Assist-headline-guy, big scoring vet St. Louis said. “It definitely helps us push one another, and it’s always nice to have the competition.”
Fan faves included the Islanders’ Matt Moulson, the Blue Jackets’ Cam Atkinson, the Sound Tigers’ Sean Backman, the Leafs’ Matt Lashoff.
Darien High’s Tudor Singers sang America, and actor RJ Kelly roasted near a dozen players with comic intros to get things started.
Kelly’s zingers targeted the mighty — “and weighing in at 225 lbs — and that’s just from the waist down — please welcome Marty St. Louis!” Some ducked their heads, still grinning, some burst into grins — most everyone outside the glass was screaming.
“It’s great to come in the rink and see all the kids, and be involved with this foundation,” said St. Louis. “You know, Ryan Shannon has done a great job at running this thing, and obviously we are lucky to have some good young talent along the way.”
High school Blue Wave coach Chris Gerwig stood the bench as a coach for the Blue, White Team coaches included local long-time pro Hugh Jessiman, finishing a solid scoring season in the AHL with the Monsters and the Heat, and, signing a two-way with none other than the Ottawa Senators this week — but unable to skate nursing a sore foot it was said — Blueline Sports owner and event sponsor Jamie Tropsa, New Canaan Rams coach Bo Hickey.
But all that’s so close to home — someplace Shannon’s so soon to find no place quite like as he jets off to seek new mountains to climb in the game.
“A little bit,” he said when asked how much he knew of his new terrain. “I was over there for the World Championships (two seasons ago). And we went over there for 48 hours to check out the team.
“And it seems beautiful; the quality of life seems great.”
The facts of life, played a big part in the transcontinental move.
“We’ve decided that — we have a three-year contract over in Switzerland, so it gives us a little more security,” said Shannon, his significant we being wife Jessica. “We have a one-year-old, Emma, so, decisions are made a little differently now. And we are actually really excited to go over there and play.”
By all indications the Zurich Lions give a quality hockey player plenty to yodel about.
“I’ve heard really, really positive things about that league,” Shannon added. “And they make the transition for import players — guys from North America — very easy. They take care of everybody.
“So we’re excited to start our life over there.”