Darien native Ryan Shannon was 14 when his first hockey coach, Obie Harrington-Howes, broke his neck in a freak accident nearly 13 years ago at Jones Beach on Long Island.
A member of the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2007, Shannon now is in his fourth NHL season and second with the Ottawa Senators, who are facing the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
Like most hockey players, the 27-year-old Shanon hasn't forgotten his roots, and he certainly hasn't forgotten about a man who helped teach a five-year-old boy how to skate and learn the game.
Last year, Shannon helped put together a fundraiser—The Big Assist—to benefit the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation, which provides financial assistance to Connecticut residents living with spinal cord injuries and disease.
This year's fundraiser will take place July 14 at 7 p.m. at the Terry Conners Rink in Stamford. The inaugural event was a rousing success, raising $21,000.
However, according to Ryan's father, Pat, who is promoting the fundraiser, the goal this year is at least a 15 percent increase.
One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to the foundation, which was originally established by members of the Darien community in response to Harrington-Howes' spinal-cord injury in a swimming accident on July 4, 1997. He was left paralyzed.
"We're hoping that we can do even better because we're moving from the Darien Ice Rink to Terry Conners," Pat Shannon said. "Terry Conners fits 2,500, as opposed to 700 at the Darien Ice Rink."
The Big Assist is an exhibition game featuring NHL, AHL and elite European players along with current and former college players. Among those who will be in attendance are Shannon and fellow Darien Youth Hockey alums Hugh Jessiman and Jaime Sifers, who are currently playing in the AHL.
Pat Shannon said the event created a buzz in the community last year, and he is expecting the same this time.
"The guys hung around until the last autograph was signed," he said. "They were fabulous."
According to the elder Shannon, two of the NHL's biggest stars - Alexei Kovalev of the Senators and Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning - have said they will attend. The two players live in Greenwich during the offseason, and St. Louis participated last year.
Other local players of interest who attended last year's fundraiser were New Canaan native Max Pacioretty and graduating Yale star Mark Arcobello, who scored eight points in two games in the recent Division I Northeast Regionals in Worcester, Massachusetts. Yale lost to Boston College, 9-7, in the regional final with a berth in the Frozen Four on the line.
There are plans to add a skills competition in a shootout format this year, but Pat Shannon said organizers won't commit to that idea until getting approval from the participating goaltenders. The final rosters won't be determined until
probably a day or two before the event.
Ryan Shannon's wife is on the board of the Obie Harrington-Howes foundation, and helping people with spinal cord injuries has become a cause close to his heart. His first fundraising effort actually took place after the Ducks won the Cup.
One of the NHL's traditions is that every player on the Stanley Cup-winning team gets possession of the trophy for 24 hours.
Throughout NHL history, there have been sordid tales of players taking the Stanley Cup, which is the oldest—and some say most cherished—trophy in sports, to places of ill repute.
Shannon didn't do anything like that. Among the places he took it was the Darien Ice Rink, where fans were charged a nominal fee to visit with the Cup. They could touch it, kiss it and take pictures with it, and the proceeds went to the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation.