It could have been a practice or game at any rink in the country, with kids of all shapes, sizes and skill levels circling around orange cones and past black foam dividers that cut the ice into sections.
It was an event that took place at the Cleland ice rink at Fort Bragg, N.C., the home to the largest concentration of military personnel in the world, and the perfect place for Defending the Blue Line to stage a clinic and benefit for military families.
Helping the Minnesota-based non-profit organization run the on-ice session were several NHL players, who volunteered their time on this September evening.
Teaming up with the NHLPA’s Goals & Dreams program, DTBL has provided 200 full sets of gear, hosted 700 kids to hockey camps and sent 700 military families to NHL games.
Although Shane Hudella, the organization’s founder and a first sergeant assigned to an aviation support unit at Hastings, Minn., created the program to provide support and funding around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, it wasn’t long before it took off.
That’s when one of the organization’s primary sponsors, the late Derek Boogaard, was traded to the N.Y. Rangers and brought word of the program with him to Broadway.
To date, more than 20 NHL players, including George Parros, Derek Stepan and Ryan Kesler, have given their support to the organization.
Although the operation is still getting its bearings on the national level — Hudella remains the organization’s only full-time staffer — there’s little doubt of the impact it’s had on military families.
“There’s so much support in the hockey community for the military and what those folks do every day,” Hudella says. “We thought, hey, what a great way to tie in that support for the military with the hockey community and do some good for their kids.”
For more information, go to Defendingtheblueline.com