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Big Assist a big success

STAMFORD, Conn. -- It all started with a shivering cold Ryan Shannon.

When Shannon won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, he wanted to do something a little different with his day with Lord Stanley by paying tribute to a man who helped get his hockey career started. That man is Obie Harrington-Howes, who first coached Shannon when he was 5 years old. Harrington-Howes suffered a spinal cord injury in a freak accident 14 years ago at Jones Beach on Long Island and has been in a motorized wheelchair ever since.

In the summer of 2007, Shannon brought the Cup to his hometown rink in Darien, Conn., where fans could take pictures with it and meet Shannon for a suggested donation to the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation, which aids Connecticut residents with similar injuries and challenges.

"I remember that day so well," Harrington-Howes told NHL.com. "Ryan was wearing shorts and a T-shirt and was out for so long. And there's not a lot of body fat on this young man. He was chilled to the bone because he was out there for three or four hours. But it was so touching, so amazing what he was doing. I was so touched."

Said Shannon: "It was a no-brainer for me. I just wanted to help out in any way I could."

Afterward, Shannon told Harrington-Howes he wanted to make it an annual event. Since then, they -- along with a mix of local trainers, players, community leaders and a few NHL stars -- have warmed the hearts of many.

On Wednesday night, at Terry Conners Ice Rink in Stamford, the third annual Big Assist charity hockey game took place. Among those featured were NHL stars such as Martin St. Louis, Max Pacioretty, Jonathan Quick, Matt Moulson, James Van Riemsdyk and Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson -- as well as a collection of local college players.

Afterward, there was a silent auction featuring signed jerseys, sticks and pucks from the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Henrik Lundqvist, donated by the NHL. All proceeds went to the Obie Harrington-Howes Foundation.

More than 1,000 people showed up, and organizers said the amount of money raised exceeded last year's total.

"Hockey players understand that it takes a village and there's a lot of sacrifices that go along with the communities and families," Shannon said. "Obie was a part of that group for me, so now it's just fitting that all the NHL players are able to come back and give to his foundation."

The mood at the rink -- where the rafters were filled with banners from high school state championships -- was spirited. A majority of the seats were filled by children, watching in awe as the players they usually watch on TV were skating at their local arena. After each period, kids mobbed the players, just saying hello or asking for autographs. The players obliged every autograph request with a smile.

"It's exciting that they skated on the same rink as me," said 10-year-old T.J. Walton, Fairfield, Conn. "It's also cool that they're all here for this."

Anderson said that's what it's all about.

"It's all about the kids," Anderson said. "Hopefully one day when they make it, they can do the same thing that we're doing. Hopefully they appreciate this as much as we do."

The game itself was light-hearted. There was no hitting, but plenty of laughter. The final score was 10-9, and featured a few funny moments, such as when the public-address announcer incorrectly credited Moulson's goal to St. Louis -- because the linemates were both wearing the same No. 26 jersey.

"When you get a chance to get involved with a charity like this, with people you play against or train with or all from the same area, you support one another," St. Louis said.

Harrington-Howes said that after the first Big Assist event, St. Louis came up to him and said, "I know we can do this better."

"It's that kind of thinking that this event, the neighborhood expects it," Harrington-Howes said. "It really is a unique event for this area. And really, I'm so humbled by it all. How can I thank Martin St. Louis and Ryan Shannon for what they do?"