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Holding out (Shannon) Hope for British ice hockey

Back on May 20th (2019), Ben Davies scored an overtime goal at the 2019 IIHF World Championships that lifted Great Britain to a 4-3 win over France, allowing coach Peter Russell and company to remain in the top division, globally, in back to back years for the first time since 1951.

One could likely count on one hand the number of Sudburians who would have paid any attention whatsoever to this result, occurring as it did on the same day that Canada blanked Denmark 5-0, improving to 5-1 in Group “A” play and eventually settling for silver following a 3-1 loss to Finland in the final.

Valley East native Shannon Hope was one of the locals who was extremely conscious of the goings-on, regarding the U.K. crew, in Kosice (Slovakia). The last time that Great Britain was busy banging bodies on the ice with the big boys of international hockey, Hope was captain of the team.

That was back in 1994, with Hope about halfway through a 13-year career overseas, almost all of which were spent with the Cardiff Devils, compiling a resume that would ultimately lead to his induction into the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1999.

Few could have imagined this outcome for the hockey nomad who played the bulk of his minor hockey with Valley East based teams, attended a junior training camp in Kitchener with current New Jersey Devils' director of scouting Paul Castron, returned home to suit up with the Capreol Hawks of the NOJHL, before lasting less than a year with the Bowling Green University Falcons.

“I was too spoiled,” said Hope with a laugh last week. “I thought life revolved around the Valley.” He would eventually make his way to Elliot Lake, crossing paths with what was then something of a run on northern Ontario talent heading to England in the form of Doug McEwen, Ron Katernyuk and others.

With Katernyuk at the helm of the Peterborough (U.K.) Pirates for the 1984-85 season, Hope would be summoned across the pond, along with long-time teammate and Valley chum Alcide Jutras. “You had only three imports, so you had to really perform,” he noted. “Your imports were the ones who were going to make or break it, especially if you could then you surround them with some good British talent.”

Jutras finished the season with 150 points in 20 games, including an astounding 104 goals. Hope ranked third on the team with 130 points, and the Pirates posted a 19-1 record, earning a promotion to the British premier hockey league the next season.

“But I was 22 or 23, thinking that I had better start a career, so I came back to Canada and flew for a mining company for a couple of years,” recalled the son of an entrepreneur (Gord Hope), after having obtained his pilot's license at a relatively young age.

Ironically, it was the move back home that ultimately paved the way for his return to the United Kingdom, a second stint that would last from 1987 right through until 2011. “I was able to play initially in Peterborough, and I got a taste of it,” said Hope. “Then I came back home and got a taste of what working life was like.”

“It's a lot more fun playing hockey. I decided I could make a living out of it, and I can grow up later – but I knew that I still had to be sensible. While I was playing, I always kept one eye on what am I going to do after hockey.”

In fact, hockey and business collided in a most fortuitous manner for Hope in the second go around. A new club, the Cardiff Devils, had been launched by his friend, John Lawless, one year earlier, with almost immediate success, up among the Division I elite, right from the start. With Hope manning the blueline and playing as many as fifty minutes a game, the team ascended to the Premier league in 1989-1990.

“It was very much a who's who of people in Wales coming in to watch our games,” he said. “We had a bar upstairs and it was just packed throughout the game. The arena could hold 3000 or so. And in Cardiff, you could just walk out, after the game, and you have like 85 bars in the downtown area waiting for you. The city centre in Cardiff was stunning.”

The hockey lads were suddenly receiving the type of royal sports treatment normally reserved for stars of soccer, rugby and snooker, in these parts. Doors were opening at every turn. “Once you had played seven years in the U.K., you could go and get nationalized and be qualified to play on the national team,” said Hope.

“I applied in November and had my British passport mid-January.” The media attention that Hope and others had attracted culminated with a national team stretch that saw the British men earn a promotion from “D” to “C” to “B” to “A” pool, within the span of just five years or so.

“We played a Canadian style of hockey, took penalties, played a very aggressive penalty kill.” In 1994, Great Britain kicked off their first top tier appearance since 1962 with a 12-3 loss at the hands of the Russians. Clearly over-matched, the newcomers went 0-5 and were right back down in the “B” pool for the next wave of championships.

Hope, however, could see the tides beginning to turn, as young British talent gradually looked at ice hockey as a viable option. “Part of our contracts, when we were over there, was to work with the junior program (effectively what would be minor hockey ranks in Canada),” he said. “We would coach after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Monday nights was always a big night for the kids.”

Hanging up his skates at the turn of the millennium, Hope would split his time between a whole slew of business related entities, including a highly successful t-shirt clothing enterprise (Shinedog) he had launched, as well as keeping his finger on the pulse of hockey, serving as general manager of the Cardiff squad for some time.

“I still follow the British league because I'm still sort of the hockey ambassador for Cardiff,” said Hope. And, quite logically, still follows the British national team that he once captained, even as they try to break new ground for his home away from home - regardless of whether the team Fan Club, in Sudbury, might be a small one.

Northern Hockey Academy