By Kevin Glew
For Darrin Shannon, coaching the Alliston Hornets to two of the past three Ontario Hockey Association Jr. C titles has helped ease the sting of losing the Memorial Cup 22 years ago.
A promising prospect in 1988, Shannon played left wing for the heavily favored Windsor Spitfires, which had won 39 of 40 games heading into the Memorial Cup final that year. Unfortunately, the Spits lost a 7-6 heartbreaker to the Medicine Hat Tigers in the tournament’s last game.
“We had a great team and whether I believe we were the better team or not doesn’t even matter because we lost,” he said. “But we had a great chance to win the Memorial Cup and it’s one of those things that I would’ve loved to have said that I did, especially now that my hockey career is over.”
But perhaps, like his Windsor teammate Pete DeBoer, Shannon was destined to win his championship as a coach.
“When Pete was coaching Kitchener and they won the Memorial Cup in 2003, I contacted him,” Shannon recalled. “He said that he had heard from pretty much everybody from the (1988 Spitfires) team after the Rangers won. To me, it just kind of felt good that one guy out of that group was able to get their name on the Cup.”
Shannon first laced up the blades with his brothers on a pond in his family’s front yard when he was three years old. His brother, Darryl, a year-and-a-half older than him, also honed his skills on that rink and eventually played parts of 14 seasons in the NHL.
By age 15, Shannon was competing for his hometown Jr. C Hornets and, after a season in Jr. B with the Barrie Colts, joined brother Darryl on the Spitfires, where the siblings boarded together for a season and played together for two.
“It was a great scenario,” Shannon said. “Even when we didn’t board together, we were still together all the time. We had one vehicle between the two of us, so either I was picking him up or he was picking me up, one way or the other.”
The brothers suffered through the Memorial Cup loss together in 1988. A small consolation was that they were both named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team.
Despite a disappointing end to the 1988 campaign, Shannon had impressed scouts and was drafted fourth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins that year. Before he played a game for the Penguins, however, he was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres in November of 1988, where he played his first NHL contest later that season. He was shuttled between the Sabres’ American League affiliate in Rochester and the NHL club the next two seasons before being dealt to the Winnipeg Jets in October of 1991, where he enjoyed his finest NHL campaigns, recording 60 points in 1992-93 and 58 points in 1993-94.
“Winnipeg was a great hockey town,” Shannon said. “I was there for five years and I truly loved my time there. Some of my best memories are playing in Winnipeg during the ‘White Out’ in the playoffs.”
Shannon’s brother, Darryl, even joined him in Winnipeg for parts of three seasons, before the team moved to Phoenix, where Shannon played two seasons.
“The last game in Winnipeg was sad,” Darrin Shannon said. “My wife is from Winnipeg, so we still go there. It was sad because it’s a great hockey town.
“Phoenix is an unbelievably great city. It truly is. But as far as a hockey environment, I mean, nothing compares to playing in Canada, where people truly care whether you’re winning or losing or care whether you’re doing well or not doing well.”
Injuries plagued Shannon during his final season in Phoenix in 1997-98. On top of knee and back troubles, he had two surgeries on his stomach that sidelined him for most of the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons.
In August ’99, he inked a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs and suited up for eight games with the Leafs’ AHL affiliate in St. John’s and nine games for the international League’s Chicago Wolves, before hanging up this blades.
Shannon returned to Alliston following his playing career and, under the tutelage of his father, Don, has become a successful advisor with Sun Life Financial. Despite Darrin’s coaching success, you won’t find him behind the Hornets’ bench this season. He has chosen to step away from the team and spend more time with his family. It’s a decision that will also give him an opportunity to savor the two Ontario titles he guided his hometown Hornets to.
“Those championships are great hockey memories,” he said. “Those are memories I’ll take with me forever. Winning those championships are right up there with playing in the NHL for me.”
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