Root, run, rest, repeat
Shannon Desrosiers could not linger for too many victory laps and photo ops. The day had brought a special sports memory, but there were other commitments in other towns, states and countries to get to before she reunited with a bed.
Saturday, April 22, all but defied Desrosiers’ almanac. A practical microcosm of her life since leaving her co-coaching post at Clarkson University, the day stole June 21’s material as the longest of her 2017.
The day packed a party for which nearly every element to enrich her existence came over in varied time slots. There was her family, her alma mater and her adulthood community early on. Then there was her competitive streak and her love of running.
In the aftermath of her first-place finish in the women’s division of St. Lawrence County’s inaugural Maple Run, her native Canada dropped in. That cleared a path for her love of hockey to enter the itinerary.
“Not very often you can run a half-marathon, hustle home to shower and drive to Montreal to get on a plane for the coaches convention in Naples,” Desrosiers said with a smile in an interview with Pucks and Recreation.
The Maple Run — arranged by former Clarkson cross country and Nordic skiing coach Amanda Stopa Goldstein — began two-and-a-half hours after sunrise at 8:30 a.m. Held in the county seat of Canton, the race took Desrosiers, along with a host of fellow Clarkson and St. Lawrence connections, through SLU’s campus trail.
“A very challenging course,” the 18-year veteran resident of Upstate New York’s North Country stressed.
Desrosiers was done before 10:30, clocking in at one hour, 20 minutes and 55 seconds. “It was one of my best times,” she said, “and I am happy to have an event like this in the North Country.”
But just as happy to embark on a business trip before the afterglow could taper off. Upon accepting her medal and maple-heavy prize package, Desrosiers darted home to shower, then made the two-hour trek across the border to Montreal.
From there, it was another five-plus hours of flying to Florida for the subsequent week’s annual American Hockey Coaches Association convention.
Yes, three years after she relinquished her half of the Golden Knights coaching duties with her husband, Matt, Desrosiers’ counsel is still coveted by Clarkson and the college hockey community. She cannot help but oblige as much as her current lifestyle will permit.
“I miss a lot about coaching,” she admits. “The dedication of the players, the effort at practices, the competition of the games.
“But for right now, I am really happy that our kids and I can be some of the team’s biggest fans.”
Tradeoffs and trophies
Five weeks before the Maple Run, Desrosiers took a break from training to watch her former pupils secure their all-time best single-season record (32-4-5) and their own crowning glory in Missouri.
Three years earlier, Matt and Shannon Desrosiers had guided Clarkson to its first NCAA title in Hamden, Conn. Then-two-year-old daughter Brynn was on hand for the clincher and celebration, while son Brody was three months away from birth.
Now with the five-year-old Brynn and two-going-on-three Brody by her side, Shannon had a reverse angle for the encore championship. All three were in the green-and-gold sector of St. Charles’ Family Arena for wins over Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“It was just as awesome, but in a different way,” Desrosiers said. “Obviously, the first was special because it was the first, and also because it is amazing to share and work towards something like that with your spouse.
“But it is also really fulfilling to know that the hard work Matt puts in now — the days away recruiting, the things he misses with our kids, the late nights doing video — are all worth it.”
While travel is a necessary evil of the occupation, the Desrosiers kids never miss the glamorous products of Matt’s work. When applicable, webcasts for the Clarkson road games are a staple on the weekend schedule back home. And Shannon, being Shannon, often multitasks by hopping on her treadmill while watching the action.
Days featuring a matinee away game tend to entail a movie night for the three back in Potsdam. That is unless the Clarkson men are at home, in which case a family outing to Cheel Arena is on tap. Those nights are complete with the pregame buffet in the beloved Barben room perched above the rink.
Otherwise, the three are dining with friends or getting out to a youth hockey commitment. Shannon volunteers with the Potsdam Minor Hockey Association, and Brynn and Brody are already taking fundamental lessons.
“Both are loving the game and really taking off,” she marveled.
That regimen, along with a varied spread of offseason activity, speaks to the parents’ propensities reaching the offspring without fail. The only aspects to change between the two generations are the country, time zone and nearest mountain range.
Speedy Saints, knowledgeable Knights
For the first half of her life so far, Desrosiers (nee Smith) built her endurance against the elements of Fernie, B.C., near the Alberta border in the thick of the Canadian Rockies. Fernie sits at an elevation more than seven times that of Potsdam and nearly nine times that of Canton. A short distance from the U.S. border in Montana, it has been dubbed a “Crown of the Continent” by the National Geographic Society for its numerous and rigorous recreation options.
On top of that, the town of barely 5,000 has produced seven NHL players in the last half-century. One of them, 1999 Hobey Baker Award winner Jason Krog, had an upbringing there that partially overlapped with Smith’s.
For the locals, the definitive winter sport was the natural thing to do when the summer attractions were out of season. The rest of the time, those other sites could make for a wholesome staycation.
“Hockey was always No. 1, but I always loved running,” Desrosiers said. “I did middle-distance events in track in high school, as running long distances wasn’t conducive for hockey training, but I loved any type of running, biking, tennis, water sports, being outside. Anything active, really. We are also at a way higher elevation, so that helped. I also loved to ski and snowboard.”
As a forward for her hometown Fernie Bladerunners, Shannon Smith caught the attention of then-St. Lawrence coach Ron Waske in the 1999 recruiting cycle. Her arrival in Canton coincided with that of Paul Flanagan, who supplanted Waske and promptly delivered the Saints’ first winning season in six years.
With Smith as a consistent top-sixer, SLU rose to a perennial 20-win range and reached the first NCAA women’s hockey championship game in 2001. She co-captained the team to a 22-9-4 finish as a senior.
Meanwhile, amidst Smith’s freshman year, a two-way junior defenseman from Fort Erie, Ont., named Matt Desrosiers was helping the men’s team to a 2000 ECAC playoff title and Frozen Four appearance. The Skating Saints repeated as ECAC champs and nabbed their third straight national tournament bid in Desrosiers’ senior year.
Upon her own graduation two years later, Smith stayed in the shade of the Adirondacks and moved up the street to rival Clarkson. She promptly began her coaching career as an assistant under Rick Seeley for the women’s program’s inception in 2003-04.
Following a five-year minor-league playing career, Matt Desrosiers joined Seeley’s cabinet in the same capacity in 2006. A year later, Smith took the Desrosiers surname, and within another year, both had taken Seeley’s job at the helm.
The Desrosiers duo made instant headlines for being the first coaching couple in U.S. women’s college hockey. (Maine’s Sara and Richard Reichenbach have since matched the distinction.) But they also kept busy chasing goals in their other chief athletic passion.
In the summer following their first year as co-head coaches, Shannon placed No. 118 in a field of 2,247 at Lake Placid’s 2009 Ironman triathlon. That, followed by an impressive showing at Ironman Canada in her native province, earned her a ticket to Hawaii for the 2010 World Ironman Championship.
In 2012, within three months of bearing Brynn, she was back in the Canadian Rockies for the centennial Calgary Stampede, where she logged a 1:26:31 time in the half-marathon. The illustrious Boston Marathon and other out-of-state events have made their way to her transcript as well.
In between, she and Matt had brought Clarkson to its first NCAA tournament in 2010. A temporary recession in the win column gave way to a program-best 28-win campaign in 2012-13. The Golden Knights followed that with a repeat at-large tournament bid, then used it to break their own year-old record with their 29th, 30th and 31st wins on the year.
The 31st, a 5-4 upset that disrupted a dynasty from Minnesota, brought the first NCAA championship for any non-WCHA team. It was also Shannon’s last game, as she intended to turn the bulk of her focus to raising Brynn and the forthcoming Brody.
Besides her informal frequenting of Cheel Arena with the kids, Shannon continues to serve Clarkson as a stewardship liaison in donor relations. Meanwhile, under Matt’s continued guidance, the Golden Knights have not looked back, becoming a steady presence in the exclusive eight-team bracket. No other program in the Eastern Time Zone managed to throw another sledge at the championship barrier before they took their second swing this past spring.
With their 3-0 shutout of the Badgers on March 19, they eclipsed their previous best with 32 wins on the year. Two days later, with the trophy on campus and the family back home, the Vernal Equinox heralded a turn of the page and a reversal in rooting roles.
Winter of contentment, glorious summer
Besides raising funds for local athletic programs, the minds behind the Maple Run tout the race as a way “to celebrate the end of Winter.” But Shannon Desrosiers’ April 22 day-ending getaway to a puck-focused gathering properly signaled that, in a way, winter is never truly over. For the rest of the year, her household hosts a cousin of the kinetic instincts that come in handy against biting cold.
“It’s a different hectic,” she explained. “Matt has way more time with our family which is fun. We are still busy running around to sports and camps and enjoying summer. We live on the lake, so our kids love swimming, boating and tubing. They also still love to get on the ice whenever they can, so having access to that is awesome.”
As for her competitive running, the fall and winter tune-up did not culminate in the Maple Run any more than a NASCAR driver’s offseason builds solely toward Daytona. After Shannon spent the 2017 Frozen Four by Brynn and Brody’s side, the parents’ positions switched for the local race.
But a month later, Matt took his opportunity to make the Buffalo half-marathon more like the 2014 Frozen Four and its eight preceding hockey seasons. The two were co-competing again, though the outcome, at least in terms of the leaderboard, was more like that of the 2010 and 2013 tournaments.
Shannon placed second in her division at Buffalo, logging the same 1:20 time as she had in the less crowded Canton field. She had done the same last year at the Mighty Niagara race. “My goal was to break 1:20, which I did,” she said. “I think I was about 10 seconds shy, which in running is significant.”
Meanwhile, Matt took one hour and 25 minutes to finish his Buffalo run. You could forgive the implicit rust. He was just coming off his first NCAA hockey championship campaign as a solo head coach, then a healthy scratch for the first half-marathon ever held in his adulthood home county.
“It is nice to have him as a training partner in the offseason,” Shannon said, “and it is still something we can do together.”
Though their athletic itch is all but insatiable, the Desrosiers have savored their summers with stints in cruise control. Last year, they marked their 10th wedding anniversary in Europe, and the company of their connections in the county never loses its appeal.
As one compromise in her split from formal coaching, Shannon savors a little more of the latter than Matt year-round. But just like the occasional half-marathon, the window of warmer weather is open to both halves of the Clarkson dynasty’s founding tandem.
“I love having people over, especially in the summer,” she says. “Matt likes to play guitar when he can, and we both like great food and a good glass of wine.”
The 2017 offseason will cut off a tad earlier than normal for the Desrosiers household. In a minor drawback to the rewards of success, Matt has been named an assistant coach for Canada’s 18-and-under national development team. The select squad will have a nine-day training camp in early August, then shuffle to Lake Placid for the annual three-game set against its American counterpart later in the month.
That will subsequently segue into the start of the 2017-18 college season. But just as NFL training camps pique a puckhead’s anticipation of what will soon follow, the starting line of Clarkson’s intended road to a repeat means the next exit is for Shannon and her long trek of preparation to defend her Maple Run medal.
“Next race, I want to break 1:19,” she said. “My goal is to just keep getting faster.”