Big Assist VI another rousing success
It is the charity event that keeps on giving.
The Big Assist VI, a charity hockey game put together by Darien native Ryan Shannon of the Zurich Lions, his dad Pat Shannon and countless other volunteers, took place Wednesday night at Terry Conners ice rink in Stamford.
It was a winning event on every level.
The capacity crowd on hand was thrilled by the large group of NHL, AHL, overseas and college players who put on a great exhibition while donating their time.
The kids were happy to see the Geico Gecko, who skates pretty well, and to collect autographs from the very patient players.
Newly-married Darien High School boys ice hockey coach Chris Gerwig had a fine time directing Team Blue -- which had almost as much talent as his state finalist Blue Wave squad this past winter. Gerwig adjusted to not having a fourth forward line to wheel out.
But the big winner once again was the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation that receives all proceeds. The OHHF Foundation has distributed over $3 million in grants to individuals with spinal cord injuries. A large contingent of people helped by the OHHF Foundation were on hand for Big Assist VI.
"The most requested item are vans. We do our best to help," said Obie Harrington-Howes, who was Ryan Shannon's youth hockey coach in Darien and a spinal cord injury victim. "We help keep existing vans functioning and on the road. We help with wheelchairs (motorized in most cases) and special beds. Because spinal cord injury victims can get bed sores, they need specialized, custom beds.
"We help people with house renovations to get people home from the hospital. We arrange with the contractor. We don't just drop off a check," Harrington-Howes continued. "Our grants are transformative in nature. We help with college tuitions."
The OHHF Foundation doesn't just make an impact with money.
"We have a committee of eight people who have either a medical or social work background," Harrington-Howes said. "It's like when a new mother comes home with her first baby. There's no instruction book on what to do. For spinal cord injury victims, education is key. Our people can connect them with other organizations. Our people know the ins and outs of the state's Title 19 program. We understand insurance company limits. We are a backstop and a conduit."
Most of all, Harrington-Howes is thankful to Ryan Shannon, Pat Shannon and all the hockey players who make The Big Assist a must attend event each summer.
"Hockey players are so approachable. They are the nicest, most hard-working athletes I've come across," Harrington-Howes said. "I'm always amazed by their generosity. The success of The Big Assist speaks to the stature of Ryan Shannon and Pat Shannon among their hockey peers, that guys come back year after year."
Among those on hand Wednesday night were Matt Moulson, who recently signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Buffalo Sabres. Martin St. Louis and Ryan Haggerty of the New York Rangers, James Van Riemsdyk and Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as Greenwich native Cam Atkinson of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Big Assist also features a silent auction. Among the items up for bid were a New York Rangers jersey signed by Mark Messier, a Detroit Red Wings jersey signed by goalie Jimmy Howard, a Rangers goalie stick signed by the 1989-90 squad including Brian Leetch as well as banners from the 2014 NHL Draft, Stanley Cup, Winter Classic and All-Star Game.
The Big Assist can't happen without six-year sponsors Geico and Fairfield County Bank and countless others.
"Our sponsorship is at a record level," said Pat Shannon. "We can't succeed with this event without them."