Everyday is a great day for hockey, especially when the day is all about giving back. Hockey players are no strangers to supporting local and national charities. Perhaps marked some of the best professional athletes in sports, it is well documented during the season when hockey players do good. But what happens when the season ends and the summer sets in? Players don’t stop giving back to the communities while they’re on “vacation”, instead they take a break from training to lend a hand.
The fifth annual Big Assist charity hockey game faced off in Stamford, Connecticut on Wednesday evening. While the event drew big names to the ice, it drew even bigger crowds off of it and all for the benefit of the Obie Harrington – Howes Foundation.
“Obie was my youth hockey coach, he shared the passion for sports and was a significant part of my upbringing, he had an injury at Jones Beach that left him in a wheelchair. This foundation started from that injury,” said Ryan Shannon, Big Assist founder. “From there, I was fortunate enough to win the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007. With the cup comes a lot of attention and the opportunity to do something charitable. One of the ideas that we came up with was to put all the proceeds of people seeing the Stanley Cup to the Obie Harrington-Howes foundation.”
The initial proceeds from the Cup gave birth to a new idea with more permanence, the Big Assist. The game played annually has raised over $150,000 during it’s first four years. 2013 marked the fifth year that local hockey players or players training in the area, have taken the ice in support of the charity.
“The community support has been really impressive, it’s really just a bunch of people trying to do the right thing,” said Shannon. “Hockey players are the best guys in sports. They give up their time during a very hectic summer schedule and it takes some sacrifice for them to commit to something like this. It’s great that they do it, I’m very thankful. What’s important to the players is that it really makes a difference in the people that have had the injuries. The proceeds go to creating a better quality of life.”
While Shannon claims that the commitment is a sacrifice, that’s clearly not the view of the players who look forward to playing in the game year in and year out.
“This is my third time playing in the game,” said Maple Leafs James van Reimsdyk. “I got involved because I work out at the same gym as Ryan Shannon. Being from this general neck of the woods, it’s great to play in games like that that support great causes.”
The area boasts many big name professional players, all of whom are more than happy to participate in an event that has had such a positive impact on the small Connecticut community.
“You grow up and you’re obviously fortunate to be where you are. To be in a community that has a couple events like this is great,” said New York Islanders Matt Moulson. “Ryan Shannon has called upon us the last few years, we owe it to the people in the community. We all like giving back whenever we can, no harm in having some fun, playing in a charity game, and raising money while we do it. I’ve been every year, haven’t missed one yet.”
Off season or not, the chance to give back is always at the forefront of a players mind.
“I got involved through Ryan Shannon, he’s kind of been preaching it to the guys in the area that play hockey,” said Canadiens Max Pacioretty. “Anytime you’re given the chance to give back, you take it. There’s a lot of good guys around the area that want to do that and are happy to do it. I’ve been here every year and the fan participation has gotten much better every year as well – it’s exciting to see so many people out supporting the cause today.”
While they may be rivals on the ice, for the participants, the off ice camaraderie in supporting and giving back is ultimately what it’s all about.
“It’s very important to be a part of it,” said Blue Jackets Cam Atkinson. “Any time you can give back, especially to a local charity it’s every professional athlete’s duty to do that. I’m just fortunate they asked me to be part of it and it’s been my fourth year doing it.”
The game held annually is a must for any hockey fan looking not only for a bit of off season hockey, but a chance to follow in the strides of their NHL heroes. Giving back to the community at every opportunity, is what being a fan of hockey is all about.