September 21, 2011

From NEHJ: Shannon teams up with role model St. Louis in Tampa

By Jesse Connolly

Since his junior year at Boston College, Ryan Shannon has looked up to Martin St. Louis as the perfect role model. Ryan Shannon (Darien, Conn.) says it's a 'dream come true' to join the Lightning and Martin St. Louis. (Bill Wippert /NHLI via Getty Images)

It was then that the 5-foot-9 forward became fully aware of the speedy winger’s talents, as St. Louis tore it up for the Stanley Cup champs in Tampa, showing Shannon that undersized forwards like himself could achieve high levels of success in the NHL.

Shannon will get to idolize the 2004 Hart Trophy winner and reigning back-to-back Lady Byng Trophy recipient up close and personal this season, as the 28-year-old native of Darien, Conn., inked a one-year deal with the Lightning in July.

“When I became really serious about making hockey a profession, he was a guy that I looked to,” Shannon said. “Obviously, there were other great role models at BC like Brian Gionta, but just because of the success that Marty had that year, it seemed like the media was always around him and he was on TV all the time. I’m going to try to pick up as much as I possibly can playing with him on the same team.”

Shannon won’t deny that St. Louis’ stature was originally what grabbed his attention, but that certainly isn’t the lone reason he holds the former University of Vermont star in such high regard.

“That was probably the thing that I first got drawn to, the fact that there was another player who was undersized and an All-Star,” said Shannon, who will need to pick out new digits after wearing St. Louis’ No. 26 for the past four seasons. “You kind of wonder how he makes that happen. When you look at his game more closely, you pick up things. When you watch hockey, you look at different styles and skill sets, and what players rely on, and you try to incorporate all those good things into your game.

“With Marty, he’s a speed guy, very powerful and very quick. But I think above all it’s his professional attitude, his passion and the way that he approaches the game. I try to pick up on that and incorporate it into my game.”

An unrestricted free agent at the start of the summer, Shannon — who has trained in Darien with St. Louis in years past — said a return to Ottawa was talked about but didn’t come to fruition. When Tampa showed interest, it was simply a no-brainer, not only because of St. Louis’ presence but also because of the chance to play in a system perfectly suited for his style and for a team that came up one win short of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals last season.

“With the new ownership that’s in Tampa, (GM) Steve Yzerman and the way that the team came together last year, it’s really an exciting time,” he said. “I get the sense already, just from conversations I’ve had with a few of the players, that the goal is definitely to win the Stanley Cup and try to take it away from Boston.”

After qualifying for the playoffs with Ottawa in 2010, Shannon and the Senators were nearly out of the race from the moment the season started last year. As player after player was jettisoned leading up to the deadline, the former BC star made the most of his increased playing time.

“It was a major transformation for my career that allowed me to find my game,” he said. “It’s funny how things work. When things went downhill fast for the team, the trade deadline came and we realized we weren’t going to be a playoff team, it gave me an opportunity to play more minutes. I think I took a big step forward toward finding out that I need to play every night to reach my potential.

“It’s too bad we weren’t more successful with that group, because we should have been. But, it was a good opportunity for me to help solidify myself in the league and now it’s about making that next step forward with Tampa.”

Capable of playing any of the three forward positions, Shannon is ready to embrace whatever role coach Guy Boucher assigns him.

“I will play whatever they want me to play,” he said. “I’ll play everything except goalie. Actually, I’ll even play goalie if they need it. I’ll play any role. I’ve played five minutes a night with Anaheim when we won the Stanley Cup, and then at the end of the season with Ottawa I was playing on the power play, the penalty kill and playing 20 minutes a night. I feel comfortable adapting my role and just doing anything possible to help the team win.”

Entering his sixth season in the NHL, Shannon hopes he can replicate the breakthrough St. Louis enjoyed in Tampa nearly a decade ago, taking his game to the next level after having moderate success in his previous stops. Having the chance to do so alongside a player he’s long worshiped and modeled his own game after is almost too special to put into words.

“It’s a dream come true,” Shannon said. “Without getting too emotional, it’s phenomenal. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to play with him and see how he plays every game. To also feel confident in my game at this point to really break through, I’m just really excited to get on the ice with Tampa. I wish the season started today because I’m ready to get going.”

THE STAT
Prior to retiring, Chris Drury ranked first among active NHL players with 17 career game-winning goals in the playoffs.

Drury calls it a career
After a memorable 12-year career in the National Hockey League, Chris Drury (Trumbull, Conn.) decided it was time to hang ’em up. He announced his retirement Aug. 19, one day shy of his 35th birthday.

Originally picked by the Quebec Nordiques in the third round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, Drury followed up a stellar four-year run at Boston University by hitting the ground running with the Colorado Avalanche. After winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie with 44 points during the 1998-99 season, the former Terrier proved to be a tremendously clutch performer in big moments.

Drury scored 11 times and added five assists in 23 playoff games for the Avalanche in the spring of 2001, playing a major role in the team’s Stanley Cup championship.

Following a one-year stint in Calgary, Drury was then traded to the Sabres, where his propensity for postseason heroics continued. The 5-foot-10 center flourished under coach Lindy Ruff, putting together back-to-back, 30-goal seasons in his final two years in Buffalo, including a career-high 37 goals and 69 points in 2006-07.

After reaching the conference finals in consecutive seasons with the Sabres, Drury inked a five-year, $35.25 million dollar deal with the Rangers. His first season with New York was a successful one by the former Hobey Baker Award winner’s standards, as he finished with 25 goals and 58 points, but his numbers dipped every season after his debut.

Following an injury-plagued season last year that limited him to just 24 games, the Rangers bought out the final year of their captain’s contract, making him an unrestricted free agent. Less than two months later, he decided to call it a career.

Drury retires with quite an impressive resume, as he finished with 255 goals and 615 points in 892 regular-season games to go along with 89 playoff points.

The former BU captain proved to be a winner at every level. Drury won a Little League World Series title in 1989 with Trumbull, a national championship at Boston University, a Cup with the Avalanche in 2001 and a silver medal for the United States in both 2002 and 2010.

Sabres have no space for Grier
Unlike his former teammate Drury, Mike Grier (Holliston, Mass.) might not be ready to ride off into the sunset just yet. The veteran forward, who previously stated that he’d either return to the Sabres or retire, is apparently interested in coming back for one more year.

The Buffalo News reported that Grier and Sabres GM Darcy Regier have had some discussion about a return, but one major hurdle exists. Buffalo is currently more than $3.5 million over the salary cap, putting them in a position where adding salary is impossible right now.

Grier, who surpassed 1,000 career games this past season, carried a cap hit of $1.5 million in 2010-11. The former Boston University star and two-time Sabre brings plenty of intangibles and solid leadership to the table, but the chances of him coming back for one more year in Buffalo certainly don’t sound promising.

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com