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Kyle Cannon still loves hockey and thousands of fellow enthusiasts gathered at the Huntington Center on Monday for a day-long event dedicated to the sport and to support the Clay High School senior.
Cannon was 14 years old in November of 2008 when he was paralyzed by an on-ice collision during a high school game. More than 2,000 supporters attended the Holiday HockeyFest that included six hockey games.
"I always watch hockey even though I got hurt," said Cannon, who watched nearly every contest on Monday. "It's not like I don't like hockey anymore. It's nice seeing all the people I haven't seen in a while. It makes you feel good that everyone cares about it and are really trying to help out."
This was the third year for the event hosted by the Toledo Walleye that has grown to include eight high school teams.
Mike Keedy, the Walleye's manager of special events, said it's the most games played in one day since the Huntington Center opened in 2009.
"We got a great response like we always do," Keedy said. "Every time we've done this, it grabs people's attention. It's a lot of fun."
Prior to the sixth game of the day that pitted Cannon's teammates against Perrysburg, he joined them on the ice for a ceremony.
Cannon's name was written on the backs of his teammates' jerseys. When his name was announced as a starter Cannon received a roar from the crowd as the players pounded their sticks on the ice in tribute.
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"When he goes out there you see how special it is," Keedy said. "People stand up and give him a huge round of applause. You see how important it is for his teammates. This being his senior year a lot of those guys have known him for a lot of years. It was very touching."
This was the third year Anthony Wayne participated in the event. The Generals, who beat Maumee 6-5, played Clay in the inaugural game.
"Kyle would want hockey to continue," said Anthony Wayne senior Michael Kaptur, who scored three goals. "It was an unfortunate event that happened to him. He wouldn't want us to stop playing hockey because he can't play. It's a great game and we love playing in it."
Cannon's teammates trailed Perrysburg throughout much of the game on Monday.
Senior captain A.J. Burns tied the game up at 4 with 20 seconds left in regulation to send it to a shootout.
"To do it in front of this crowd and in front of Kyle is big," Burns said. "It was good to show we didn't give up. It was great to have him out on the ice for warmups."
Perrysburg's Mike Finch and Chris Sarni both scored in the shootout to give the Yellow Jackets a 5-4 win. Patrick Sarni and Chris Sarni each scored twice for Perrysburg.
Cannon said being out on the ice with his senior teammates one more time was special.
"It's pretty cool. I was friends with all the guys on the team even before I got hurt," Cannon said. "It's cool. A lot of them were messing with me. But they'll get it back in school. I'll just run them over or something. So it's kind of funny."
Clay coach Mike Heck said the benefit game also gives high school players a chance to play in a pro facility.
"It's a great thing," Heck said. "It's Kyle's senior year. There are three on the team left that played with him. For them it's an emotional year. They went out on their own and got jerseys for this game."
Keedy said the Walleye organization is thrilled to be part of the event.
"We will always have a benefit event as long as they want to participate," Keedy said. "We're more than happy to have them here. We've just loved it."
The games were all non-league contests, but counted toward overall records.
In the third high school game of the day, Maumee took a 3-0 lead over Anthony Wayne in the first period. The Generals charged back, however, and Aaron Podbeilniak tied the game at 5 late in the second period.
Kaptur scored the go-ahead goal with 13:15 left in the game. Kaptur and Podbeilniak each tallied hat tricks.
"This is my third year playing here and it gets better every time you go out there," Kaptur said. "You have the bright lights. You're skating out there where the Walleye play and it's incredible. You have your family here watching you. And it all goes toward a good thing for Kyle."
AW coach Derek Helmke said the event has become a centerpiece for the hockey community to rally around.
"Supporting Kyle is a wonderful thing," Helmke said. "Unfortunately injuries like that do happen. We want to let Kyle know and other people that get injured playing our sport that we're there for them."
Eastwood knocked off Springfield 8-3 in the second game. Tom Smith, Justin Moore, and Josh Curtis each scored twice for the Eagles. Nic Sosnowicz scored two of the Blue Devils' three goals.
Lake defeated Ottawa Hills 9-5 in the first high school game of the day. Nick Switala and Scott Senci each recorded hat tricks, while Kyle Ramer scored twice for the Flyers. Michael Hartman scored twice for the Green Bears.
The event was kick started by two games involving area youth teams. Both contests went to shootouts.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.