Big Assist IV hockey benefit game a rousing success
STAMFORD -- The sentiment that ice hockey players are the most charitable athletes in the world of sport was on display Wednesday night as Big Assist IV was a rousing success at Terry Conners rink.
The fourth annual charity ice hockey exhibition game started by Darien native Ryan Shannon filled Conners rink to near capacity as fans both young and old were enthalled by the proceedings.
The biggest winner Wednesday night was the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation, which receives all proceeds from the exhibition contest.
Ryan Shannon started the Big Assist when his Darien youth hockey coach Obie Harrington-Howes suffered a spinal cord injury in a swimming accident on July 4, 1997.
Shannon's first fundraising efforts revolved around an appearance of the Stanley Cup Trophy in Darien when Shannon was a member of the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 2006-07.
The Big Assist game -- now in its fourth season -- evolved from there.
"The Big Assist has grown thanks to the foundation and executive director Candy Wheelock," Shannon said. "And all the players who sacrifice their time in the summer make this possible."
The mission of the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation (www.OHHF.org) has grown exponentially with the success of the Big Assist.
"We build on our base every year. This event is a critical revenue stream especially in this down economy," Harrington-Howes said. "I thank God it gets better and better each year. Our chief focus in helping people with spinal cord injuries is improving their quality of life. In many cases, it starts with building wheelchair access ramps in homes and apartments. Modification of living spaces is key for spinal cord victims.
Other OHHF grants have been used for a custom built handcycle so a spinal cord victim can compete in marathons as well as a service dog who assists in daily living tasks for another.
"We also help with vehicles that wheelchair people can drive. I know in my own rehab being able to drive and travel outside my home was a huge step," Harrington-Howes continued. "We help with sport wheelchairs. Computers are an important addition for many. It brings the world to them if they can't seek the world out. We do what we can. But with most spinal cord victims on Medicaid and state services at a minimum, the demand remains huge each year."
An important piece of the Big Assist is the silent auction with donations from the players and from the NHL front office thanks to John O'Neill of Darien.
Among the auction items Wednesday night were autographed jerseys from Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and Philadelphia's Claude Giroux. LA Kings Stanley Cup champion goalie Jonathan Quick donated a signed blocker and catching glove. One could bid on a round of golf with Tampa Bay's Martin St. Louis.
The contest on the ice was a treat as well with NHL stars St. Louis, Montreal's Max Pacioretty, Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders, Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers and Cam Atkinson of the Columbus Blue Jackets taking part.
The charity of the event was evident behind both benches. The Big Assist is the only time local high school hockey fans each year witness New Canaan High's Bo Hickey and Darien High's Chris Gerwig calmly coaching against each other.
While his work with the OHHF Foundation is unceasing, Ryan Shannon is moving on to a new phase in his hockey life.
Shannon recently signed a three-year contract to play for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss National League A in Switzerland.
"It was a move I made for my family. My daughter Emma is one-year-old. My wife and I wanted stability in our lives rather than moving from one NHL team to another," said the 29-year-old Shannon, who has played for the Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning since 2006-07. "Now I can be in one place and concentrate on hockey and family. But the NHL isn't a closed door for me."