As the concept of Canadian-born players competing in Europe is an expanding one, mining new territory for the game, there is a unifying sense of a magical era taking root, as a diverse myriad of players from unique backgrounds become inextricably fused, part of a time filled with eagerness and ambition. Among such Canadians partaking in this era across the Atlantic includes Shannon Stewart, who spent the 2015-16 campaign in Sweden with Linkoping of the SDHL. The season to come promises to add a new dimension to Stewart’s European career, as she takes her skills to the Frauen-Bundesliga, where she shall suit up for ECDC Memmingen.
“I am looking forward to playing in Germany this year because it’ll be so different from school and Sweden. We’re not practicing every day so there is more of an opportunity to work and travel. We also get to travel to countries like Austria and Hungary to play a couple games so I am really looking forward to that.”
Heading into this season, Stewart shall be one of three Canadian-born players making their debut with ECDC Memmingen, which also includes former collegiate teammate Caitlin Gilligan, a solid blueliner who registered at least 10 points per season at the NCAA Division III level, along with Manitoba’s Jennifer More. Similar to Stewart, More, an alumnus of the Maine Black Bears, made her European debut last season. Skating for EV Bomo Thun in Switzerland, she would record 35 points. As a side note, Arizona resident Remi Martin shall also add to the team’s North American flavor. Holding both American and German citizenship, Martin competed at the NCAA level with Penn State.
This terrific Canadian trio shall look to extend on the legacy of elite Canadians stars with the club, which featured a remarkable scoring duo last season. Having both played with the Ivy League’s Brown Bears, Kaitlyn Keon, the granddaughter of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dave Keon led the team in scoring with 23 goals and 40 points. Sarah Robson would record 35 points, ranking third on the club in scoring. Both were essential towards the club ranking among the league’s most successful with an astounding 64 points while amassing a sensational goals for of 123.
Having blossomed from a fresh faced rookie to a glorious leader, gaining All-America honors in 2014 (alongside Sydney Aveson and Ailie Era) and 2015 (joining Alyssa Parke and Kayla Meneghin) as a scoring sensation for the State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh Cardinals, such endeavors would also involve a coveted national championship following her junior season.
Accumulating 144 career points in Cardinals colors, Stewart’s senior season was her finest, lighting the lamp 20 times while reaching career bests in assists and points with 26 and 46, respectively. During her sophomore season, the Cardinals would experience an undefeated regular season, suffering its only loss in the NCAA Division III Frozen Four.
“Plattsburgh was a great college town. We had amazing fans that would come and watch us every weekend. We even had some fans travel a few hours if we were playing over in Vermont.. I loved the Elmira-Plattsburgh rivalry. Each time we played it was as if it was a final game of the NCAAs. Plattsburghs coaching staff got me to where I wanted to be as a player and gave me the opportunity to play over in Europe.”
Of note, her last goal with the Cardinals would take place on March 14, 2015 against St. Thomas, while the final multi-point game took place one week later, a three-point output on March 21 against Elmira. As a side note, Stewart is not the only Cardinals alum to have extended her career into the professional ranks. Aveson, the 2014 recipient of the Laura Hurd Award, would serve as the backup to goaltender Charline Labonte for Les Canadiennes de Montreal.
Raised east of Toronto in the municipality of Pickering, Stewart (who also excelled in rugby as Athlete of the Year at Dunbarton High School), whose hockey background also included competing with the PWHL’s Durham West Junior Lightning, she was part of a highly impressive group of talented stars to have emerged from Durham Region. Among them are the likes of Natalie Spooner and Jennifer Wakefield, teammates with Canada’s glorious gold medal winning roster from the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Undoubtedly one of the world’s finest at her position, the arrival of Wakefield in Europe signified a pivotal moment, as the rarity of an All-World superstar from Canada, continuing to hone her superlative craft across her Atlantic was practically unprecedented. Along with Jackie Raines of London, Ontario, they represented a remarkable trio of Canadian talent for Linkoping. Getting the opportunity to call Wakefield a teammate for the 2015-16 season was a tremendous point of pride for Stewart,
“Playing with Jenn last year was a dream come true. She’s Pickerings Olympic hero, and having the opportunity to play on her line and become great friends was again an amazing experience. She was a huge mentor to me and the rest of the team. It was great playing with someone from the same place because we grew up playing for a lot of similar teams and were taught the same hockey skills.”
Taking into account that Stewart has also served in a coaching capacity with the Durham West Junior Lightning, there is no question that Stewart’s remarkable playing background and experiences makes her an invaluable leader on whichever team that she suits up for. Although Stewart remains humble, praising the efforts of Wakefield and her seniority with the club, there is no question that her love (and knowledge) of the game and continued dedication towards learning and improving truly set a standard for Linkoping’s younger skaters,
“I thought Jenn Wakefield was more of a mentor then I was. She had been there a couple seasons and I am more on the shy side. I felt as if I showed up and worked as hard as I could, the younger players would follow.”
In addition to Wakefield, Stewart also had the chance to call another group of highly accomplished peers as teammates. With a roster that also featured players from England, Norway, Austria, Czech Republic and Switzerland, Stewart was part of a unified endeavor towards victory, highlighted by distinguished participants such as Denise Altmann, Florence Schelling and Pernilla Winberg. Stewart would rank sixth in team scoring with Linkoping wtih a solid 26 points.
Should Stewart be able to retain such scoring punch this season, it will enable her to maintain ECDC Memmingen’s status among the elites in league play. Of note, she shall have the opportunity to call several notable German players as her teammates. Among them include a pair of competitors for Germany at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, including Tanja Eisenschmid, who recently graduated from the University of North Dakota, (her sister Nicola was among Memmingen’s scoring leaders last season) along with Susanne Fellner. Having also suited up for the German national team, Daria Gleibner has also shown strong playmaking abilities, having paced the club last season with 22 assists.
Although Linkoping now represents the past in Stewart’s sensational career, there is no question that it was part of a bigger story, one that has seen her reach new pinnacles during a fascinating time in Europe. Undoubtedly, Stewart is one of Canada’s national hockey treasures raising the profile of the game there, bringing a collective sense of achievement for all Canadians gracing European ice.
“I like playing in Europe because it’s such a different experience. There are so many players from different nationalities and we all have the same goal of winning. There’s so much diversity on the team and that makes it a really cool experience.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: Stefan Lindgren