Part of a rookie class that includes Alessandra Bianchi, Cassidy Delainey, Sydney Kidd and Brittany Zuback, Shannon Stewart is determined to keep the Toronto Furies in the postseason conversation. Selected in the fourth round, 23rd overall during the 2017 edition of the league’s draft, Stewart already brings significant professional experience to the Toronto Furies.
Having captured multiple NCAA Division III national championship as a member of the Plattsburgh State Cardinals, the presence of one of her teammates would foreshadow the possibilities of further glories to come. Calling former Montreal Canadiennes goaltender (and Laura Hurd Award winner) Sydney Aveson as a teammate with the Cardinals, Stewart would graduate to the professional ranks in Europe.
Gracing the ice with Sweden’s Linkoping HC, Stewart assembled a solid 26 points on the strength of 15 goals. In addition, she would appear in 8 playoff games with the club. During the 2016-17 campaign, Stewart donned the jersey of ECDC Memmingen in Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga. Once again, Stewart displayed offensive consistency, racking up 20 points in 16 games, while her 13 assists showcased outstanding playmaking abilities.
The experience in Europe was certainly a key factor in sharpening her skills, making Stewart a better, more cerebral player, while cultivating her confidence. With the return to her home province, Stewart attributes such an unforgettable time across the Atlantic as making her better prepared for the demands of professional hockey in North America.
“I definitely think it helped. I think it would have been tough not playing for a few years then going to the CW. In Sweden I was on the ice almost everyday which was very similar to school.
Then last year, I went down to practicing twice during the week and games on the weekend, which is very similar to what my schedule is like now. I think having the huge change of last year, with only practicing twice a week, has definitely helped me prepare for this year. It is very different being on the ice everyday to only practicing a few times.”
Having already seen action in nine games this season, Stewart made her debut on October 28, 2017 in a two-game series against the expansion Vanke Rays, one of two new teams to hail from China. Considering that it was also the first game in Rays franchise history, there was a unique feeling of historic fulfillment for Stewart.
Raised east of Toronto in Pickering, the same municipality where the likes of Natalie Spooner, the Furies captain last season, and Jennifer Wakefield, also a Furies alum, first established themselves as star players, the chance to don the blue and white jersey allowed Stewart to add her name to a growing legacy of women’s hockey luminaries from her hometown. This strong feeling of achievement was enhanced by the fact that another cherished element defined this newest chapter in her hockey odyssey.
During her sojourn in Europe, Stewart never enjoyed the opportunity to grace the ice and compete in front of friends and family. In gracing the ice with the Furies, there was an outpouring of love and support from a jubilant group, just as euphoric as Stewart in the chance to compete at home.
“The first home game was definitely an exciting time. I had quite a bit of family there who had not seen me play in two years due to being over in Europe. Putting on the jersey was a great feeling and it’s definitely something I won’t forget.”
The following day, Stewart would record the first points of her Furies career, providing a two-assist performance, resulting in her first multipoint effort. Along with Jenna Dingeldein, who competed last season for a team in Buffalo, the two collaborated on the assists for a power play goal scored by Shannon Moulson. Coincidentally, Moulson’s older brother Matt, once competed for Buffalo’s team based in the NHL.
After the Rays tied the game with 41 seconds left in the second stanza on a goal by former Cornell Big Red captain Hanna Bunton, the Furies would reclaim the lead. Capitalizing on another power play opportunity, Stewart and Carolyne Prevost, a member of the Furies 2014 Clarkson Cup title team, contributed the helpers on Dingeldein’s first goal of the season.
Coincidentally, Stewart was not the only member of the Furies rookie class to gain her first career points on this day. Delainey would record the first goal of her CWHL career, slipping the puck past Rays backstop Elaine Chuli at the 9:46 mark. Dingeldein would record her second assist of the game, pacing al players in the game with a superlative three point effort, while Zuback also recorded an assist, for her first point in league play.
Adding to the sense of achievement in this notable game was the fact that Sami Jo Small, a co-founder of the Furies, became the oldest goaltender in league history to win a regular season game.
Currently, Stewart ranks third on the blue and white in rookie scoring, trailing Zuback and Kidd. As a side note, fellow rookie Kidd also played professionally prior to joining the club, having skated for a club based in Brooklyn, New York.
Statistics are far from the key metric that measures Stewart’s time with the Furies. Instead, the euphoric feeling of excited realization, every day eagerly looking forward to her next game in the blue and white, it characterizes what Stewart derives enjoyment from. This empowering perspective takes on even greater meaning, proud in the fact that the Furies are the sister organization of a team that meant so much during her formative years, proud at contributing towards a new era where the women of the game are helping shape its destiny.
“It is really exciting to be able to play for Toronto. When I graduated from high school and went off to university I had no idea I would have the opportunity to play again close to home. I have also been a huge fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was young, so it is exciting to be affiliated with that organization.
The Furies have been very welcoming and I could not have asked for a better start. There are a lot of new faces this year for the Furies and I think the players who have been there for a few years have really stepped up and helped everyone make the transition.”
From November 18 to 24, Stewart and her Furies teammates had the chance to compete in the club’s first-ever regular season games in China. Crossing the Pacific for a pair of two-game series against both the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays, it proved to be a treasured milestone for Stewart.
Considering Stewart’s international experience, the chance to compete in China not only rekindled fond memories of her time competing in Europe, it added luster to her stature as a remarkable ambassador for the game. Representing what is great about Canadian women’s ice hockey, Stewart treasured the time in China, helping pioneer the professional game to a nation that shall also serve as host for the 2022 Winter Games, ushering in an exciting era poised to increase the global reach of the women’s game.
“China was an amazing experience. I never imagined hockey would bring me over to that side of the world. It was a lot of fun playing over there especially in front of such a huge crowd. All of the streets had signs of the CWHL which was really cool to see. It’s a huge step for women’s hockey.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Celine Gelinas and Stefan Weishaupt