NAHL mourns the loss of Kim Cannon
By Ken Campbell, The Hockey News/Sports Illustrated
Over the past decade, you’ve probably come to realize that Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper doesn’t often struggle to find the right words. But on Thursday night, he did. He struggled with a lot of things, not the least of which were his emotions. Grief will do that to a person.
And Jon Cooper is grieving. Heavily. So is one of his players, Lightning veteran and fellow NAHL alum Pat Maroon. That’s because they learned Thursday morning that the night before, just a few hours before Cooper’s triple fist pump celebrating Nikita Kucherov’s goal with 7.8 seconds remaining in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final, there had been a terrible car accident in a place called Webster Parish, Louisiana, more than 2,000 miles southeast of the NHL bubble in Edmonton. For hockey purposes, it might as well be a million miles away. But for Cooper and Maroon, it’s far too close and far too raw.
According to police reports, Kim Cannon was driving her SUV on Interstate 20 in the Dixie Inn area of Webster Parish, about 26 miles from her home in Shreveport, when she was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer driver who failed to reduce his speed as he approached traffic congestion. The 18-wheeler propelled Cannon’s car into another tractor-trailer before the car overturned. Kimberly Cannon was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident from blunt force trauma injuries. She was just 35 years old.
Most hockey fans, outside of those who followed the defunct Texarkana Bandits and St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), have no idea who Kim Cannon was. But for Cooper and Maroon, along with current and former NHLers such as Keith Kinkaid, Erik Condra and Matt Taormina, Kim Cannon was one of those people you never forget, one of those people who was content to work tirelessly behind the scenes to help them realize their hockey dreams. Cannon started with Cooper in 2003 when he left his law practice in Detroit to run the Texarkana Bandits, a start-up in the NAHL owned by former St. Louis Blues enforcer Kelly Chase. The team played out of a rodeo barn and had to drive two hours one way just to practice. Cannon joined the team as a 19-year-old selling merchandise out of a shed behind the rink and the more Cooper worked with her, the more responsibility he gave her, making her the Bandits' director of team operations, which meant she did everything from arranging billets for players to setting up their schooling, helping them get recruited by college teams and even occasionally bailing them out of trouble. She followed Cooper when the team moved to St. Louis in 2007, winning two Robertson Cup champions with Cooper and two more with former NHLer Jeff Brown coaching the team before it was sold in 2013.
In short, Kim Cannon was one of those people who are the lifeblood of hockey, people who work furiously to make the players and coaches look good. And for Cooper and Maroon, she was instrumental to their success. “She was born an angel,” said Maroon, who plans to write ‘Kim Cannon, Rest in Peace’ on his stick for Game 3 Friday night, “and she left this world as an angel. She was like another sister to me. You could talk to her about anything and she always had your back. She had the most beautiful smile ever and she loved taking care of everyone.”
Maroon was 17 years old when he showed up in Texarkana to play for the Bandits. It was his first time away from home and almost every day his mother would text or call Kim Cannon to ask how her son was doing. Kim would tell Maroon’s mother that she was taking good care of her son. Cooper was also incredibly wet behind the ears when he came to Texarkana to start a junior hockey team from scratch in a market that bordered Texas and Arkansas and had almost no knowledge of the game. “We’re playing in the Four States Fairgrounds and we’re trying to sell Tier II Jr. A hockey to people in the south,” Cooper said. “And here is this 19-year-old girl who we bring on to be the part-time merchandise-selling girl who, little do we know at the time, is going to touch our lives forever. She was the best.”