When the Flyers asked Shjon Podein to come back and play in the Alumni game for the 2012 Winter Classic, he had no idea what he was getting into.
“I thought it was just going to be a practice game with nobody in the stands, playing against the old New York Rangers just to kind of test out and warm up the ice,” Podein said. “When I got there, they told me there was going to be close to 50,000 people. That’s when I got scared. I didn’t bring any of my own equipment. I didn’t have a stick. I didn’t have shoulder pads. I had no idea what was going on.
“Rex [Mark Recchi] loaned me a stick and I stole Jaromir Jagr’s shoulder pads and luckily I made it through the game and was able to experience it. It was special. One of the most special days of my life to be honest.”
Podein scored the game-winning goal for the Flyers Alumni in that game, and was quite vocal about how great his experience was afterward.
“I said it from Day One when I got here - Philly fans are the greatest,” Podein said. “It’s not just a cliché. They’re unbelievable.
“They’re demanding. They’re harsh. They’re friendly. If you just give them everything you have, they respect you for it. That’s why it was so great playing here.”
Podein played in parts of five seasons with the Flyers, reaching the Finals with them in 1997.
He was later traded to Colorado for Keith Jones and as a member of the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001.
After being traded from Colorado to St. Louis, Podein left the NHL in 2003 and played two seasons in Sweden before finishing his professional career as a player/coach in Japan for the Nikko Icebucks.
“Japan was amazing,” he said. “When I was there, I had a translator because a lot of people don’t speak English. A couple months in, I learned that my translator only understood about half of what I was saying, so I don’t even know if I was communicating with anyone over there, but it was great.”
Since his retirement, Podein has settled with his wife and two kids in St. Louis Park, Minnesota where he keeps busy by doing… well…
“A lot of nothing,” he said. “I have two kids. My daughter Anna Leigh is nine and my son Shjon Daniel (who he calls Junior) is six and I’m chasing them around every day. I’m doing a little high school coaching and I’m doing a little part-time family advising work for an agency out here called Octagon.”
Octagon is one of the largest sports agencies in the world, and they have a large stable of hockey clients.
Podein does a lot of the initial legwork for the company, getting in good with kids and their families before handing them off to an agent to represent them.
“In the agency world you go out and start watching kids as young as age 14,” Podein said. “What you do is help kids and their families make decisions. The big decision is whether to go to college or major junior hockey. You help them decide when to go and when are they ready and hopefully, when they get really good one day, they’ll make the NHL and give your company four percent of what they make.”
Otherwise, he spends his time coaching the St. Louis Park High Orioles boys hockey team.
He is now in his third year as head coach of the team and is assisted by another former Flyer – Paul Ranheim. Podein and Ranheim never played together in the NHL. Ranheim arrived in Philadelphia the season after Podein was traded.
“There are two questions I get from kids that I’m coaching for the first time,” Podein said. “First they ask, ‘Did you play for the Minnesota Wild?’ I tell them, ‘No.’ Then they say, ‘Did you really play in the NHL?’
“After they get to know me they understand that I played in the NHL, but it’s such a removed thing. Especially in the community I live in because it’s not the strongest hockey-focused community. For some of them it’s nice and neat that I’m their coach, but it’s used more as a fun thing to talk about than anything else. “
Podein also is still very active with his charity – the Shjon Podein Children’s Foundation, which is also known as “Team 25.”
We just started our 15th year and we still have that,” Podein said. “It was something we started when I was in Philly.
“It’s the same concept – monies are given to underprivileged and underfunded children’s charities.”
The mission of Shjon Podein’s Children’s Foundation is to improve the quality of life and create an environment of caring and community support for children facing extraordinary difficulties in their lives.
The Foundation, which has a Website here, supports at least eight different children’s charities.
The foundation has also created the only elementary adaptive floor hockey program in the nation where children with physical and mental disabilities are able to participate.
The adaptive floor hockey program is for students (3rd grade – 12th grade) with physical or other health impairments. There is a camp that is especially tailored for children with disabilities (medically diagnosed neuromuscular, postural/skeletal, traumatic, growth or neurological impairments which impact the child’s physical functioning.)
Podein’s foundation began a pilot program in the summer of 2001 and due to its tremendous success allowed for great growth of the program. This year an elementary league is running in conjunction with the high school program during the school year. And the hope is to grow this program into other communities throughout the state of Minnesota and ultimately the nation.
It is because of his work with this foundation that Podein was recognized as the recipient of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2001. The trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.
Podein said he has so many memories of his time as a Flyer, that he couldn’t highlight anything specific about his time here that would be more memorable than anything else, although he did admit the unexpected run to the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals and the trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997 were definitely career highlights.
“I’ve been very vocal and very non-apologetic when I say that my time in Philadelphia was some of the best times in my life - I never wanted to leave there,” he said. “It was the classiest organization I was ever lucky enough to be part of. And I mean everybody there – from the people at the practice rink and the offices – just from Mr. Snider on down. I was so lucky to be there.
“The whole ideology, that we were there to win and showed up at the rink with a purpose, was awesome. It was a feeling that I lived for because I loved competition more than anything. The organization was committed to winning and doing things the right way. I was privileged to be a part of it.
“The other thing that I loved about being there was to walk out of a South Philly bar and have some guy on the street recognize me and yell, ‘Yo, Shjon.’ It made me feel like I was really a part of South Philly then.”
And he will always be a part of the South Philly lore. If not for the way he skated hard on every shift and killed penalties like a whirling dervish and was part of a Conference champion, but for the game-winning goal in an exhibition game that will live on in the memory of Philadelphia hockey fans for decades to come.
“It was special,” Podein said. “One of the most special days of my life to be honest.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling of being on the ice with some of the all-time great players. Then to take my little boy out there and introduce him to Bob Clarke and Mr. [Ed] Snider in a city that I absolutely love – it was awesome. It’s one of my favorite memories.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37