A NEW REPUTATION

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” — Abraham Lincoln

Rob Concannon is in the position he’s in because of where he’s been – and where he’s been is now legend. The stories have been chronicled and preserved in a frame on his office wall.

Above a leather couch a black and white photo of Concannon — wide-eyed, wild, lighting a cigar — stares back. The photo was taken as part of a revealing 4,000-word profile released in Boston Magazine in June 2009. While the article is two years old, the stories are part of an archaeological dig spanning two decades of Concannon’s life.

“When the article came out I was a little caught off guard because I didn’t want people to take it the wrong way,” said Concannon. “If you read the articles first couple lines you’re taken aback. The stuff that happened in there (pointing to the article) was when I was a younger lad. I was probably a little immature at times. Since that article I’ve grown up a lot.”

When asked to define his reputation, Concannon nods, acknowledging the obvious query, but pauses to think about his response – a new tact in and of itself for a man with a notorious history of acting without thinking.

“That’s a good question,” he starts, then stops and pauses for a moment.

The pause is revealing. His past, combined with the published expose nearly cost him the job as president of the Stingrays. Concannon knows he is about to speak on behalf of a professional organization, his employers and employees, the team, his wife and twins (John Robert and Ella Loraine, born in February) and the community he so passionately embraces.

“There were some questions from the ownership, but they know me as a person,” he said. “This was a person who grew up in Boston, who probably at times didn’t act accordingly, but with the help of himself, this city, the sport of hockey, this organization, and learning and growing along the way he’s learned and probably become a better person because of his mistakes.”

A Hockey Lifer

A lot has changed in Concannon’s personal life but his love for the game of hockey has been a constant, since age three in fact, when his parents laced him up in blades and hoist him on to the frozen Jamaica Pond at the Boston Public Garden. Within two years, at age five, he was playing in his first hockey league.

He skated his way through grade school and high school, college and professional minor league hockey, including a five-year run with the Stingrays from 1995-2000. He was a member of the 1997 Kelly Cup Championship team. In 2004, after retiring, Concannon was inducted into the Stingrays Hall of Fame.

Concannon wasn’t interested in coaching or broadcasting, and running the organization? “When I was done playing, I never thought I’d want to be the president of the Stingrays one day,” Concannon said.

Then, when former Stingrays president Darren Abbott resigned he pulled Concannon aside and said he wanted to recommend him for the job. Circumstances have a way of changing your mind.

In March 2010, the South Carolina Stingrays named Concannon team president.

Goal: Redefined

There’s a white board next to Concannon’s office door. The X’s and O’s of the game have been replaced by product categories, marketing strategies, sales – dollars and cents. The definition of “goal” has taken on a whole new meaning in Concannon’s life.

“It’s a whole different beast,” he said. “During the season you’re up here 60 hours a week, but what a lot of people might not understand is that the off-season is our busiest time of the year. We trying to increase season ticket sales, increase corporate revenue; you’re trying to get Cool Ray (the Stingrays mascot) out in the community. You’re trying to buys ads, order merchandise for next year and plug in holes where people have moved on. I love it. It’s challenging. It keeps you on your toes.”

Keeping busy may be the best thing for Concannon. It keeps his mind off the struggles, both on and off the ice, during his first year on the job.

“Last year was difficult from Day One,” he said. “We had to replace eight people in the office. Away from the ice we had twins in February while my wife was in Reno, Nevada. That was a tough three months. It really wasn’t a fun year for anyone – from me to the ownership – but I think it was a learning year.”

Concannon spent most of the first year immersed in “on the job” training. He leaned on past and present Stingrays employees. He regularly picked former Stingrays GM Darren Abbott’s brain. He credits office manager Julie Thoennes, who has been with the Stingrays since the team’s inception in 1993, as an invaluable resource.

“I don’t know where this organization would be without her,” Concannon said.

Then there’s Keri, Concannon’s wife, mother to his twins and biggest supporter.

“I have a great wife,” said Concannon. “Taking this job, people don’t understand that you have to have a special partner to do a job like this. When I spoke to her about this opportunity she said she knew how much the organization means to you, how much the city means to you, how much the team means to you – I’ll support you one hundred percent.

“I come home from work sometimes and I’ll be tired or stressed and she’ll say, ‘what’s wrong?’ It wasn’t a good day. ‘What did you expect? Did you expect this thing to happen overnight?’ I’ve had to pull myself back and see that this is going to be a process. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Hope floats

A lot has also changed in the league. When Concannon played there were 32 teams in the East Coast Hockey League. Everyone knew Rob Concannon, Jason Fitzsimmons, Brett Marietti and Dave Seitz. They’d become part of the fabric of the Lowcountry community.

A decade-and-a-half later there are 20 teams. The ECHL has become more competitive. Players are coming and going. Building a relationship between players and community no longer exist.

“It’s kind of hard to swallow as a person who played hockey his whole life, who played here for five years and saw what it was,” said Concannon. “I had to embrace the fact that we have a good core of people who come to the games because they love the Stingrays and they love hockey, but we have to get more hockey fans and we have to be an entertainment source for people in the community, make them have a good time at the game and want to come back.”

Concannon has refocused his efforts to the game within the game. The Stingrays have invested in a new scoreboard, a new sound system, the Montague Terrace and 32 of the Rays home games on weekends, Concannon is excited about the Stingrays in 2011-12. Maybe we’ll even catch a glimpse of the old Rob Concannon, dancing and celebrating on the ice after a Rays win.

“Not anymore,” he says. “I probably get a little happier when we score, proud when we play well and win; then I have to watch myself, contain myself, because I can’t dance and act the way I probably would because I’m in this position.”

Concannon hopes he will be fighting the urge to dance every night this hockey season. It would be a signal that the South Carolina Stingrays are back on top, filling the North Charleston Coliseum, winning hockey games, creating an exciting, entertaining brand of hockey.

Rob Concannon is the tree; his past, the shadow.

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