I was asked a few weeks ago if I would be interested in covering an event the Navy Youth Hockey organization was putting on March 9-10. Being a former recreational hockey player (mediocre at best), I thought it might be a fun way to get back to the rink since it has been close to 10 years since I last laced up my skates and took to the ice.
The event was 24 hours of hockey, featuring 24 games with 48 teams playing 15-minute, running clock periods. That?s 1,440 minutes or 86,400 seconds of hockey, interrupted just to clean the ice in between games and three minutes for the teams to warm up.
That many minutes of hockey is great. The cause was even better. The event was the fifth annual Hockey for Heroes and is a fundraiser by Navy Youth Hockey to support multiple disabled veterans service organizations.
Since 2014, the event has raised over $385,000 for many deserving groups, including USA Warriors Ice Hockey, Disabled American Veterans, Wounded Warrior Project, Paws4Pets, Truckin4Troops and Valhalla Sailing Project. This year, the event added Fisher House Foundation to the list.
Being the son and a nephew of veterans of World War II and the Korean War, respectively, made it that much more special for me.
?I was sitting in our kitchen one morning and I saw a group of lacrosse players who had a 24-hour tournament in Baltimore called ?Shootout for Soldiers? and that was the inspiration to bring it into a rink and do something for our soldiers and veterans,? event organizer Amy Hitt said. ?We had a waiting list of teams that wanted to get into the event this year. The team slots filled up really quickly.?
I arrived at the Dr. John J. McMullen Hockey Rink at the Brigade Sports Complex just in time to catch one of the marquee games of Friday night pitting one of the two USA Warrior teams against the Naval Academy Alumni team.
Unlike what is seen on television, there were no fights, no bone-jarring checks and no angry jawing taking place. What was seen were adults, some past their prime, out on the ice enjoying competitive camaraderie with the opposition along with playful banter. The score of the games meant absolutely nothing, nor did who scored the goals or how many saves the goaltender made. It was all for 100 percent fun.
?I love coming back to the academy. This is the fourth or fifth year I?ve played in this game and it?s always a great time,? said David Corley, who served in the Navy for 22 years and is retired Navy. ?The find-raising is great and the cause is fantastic. The way the organization supports us and what they have going here, I just love it. These folks love veterans, they love wounded warriors and they love hockey. We really appreciate that.?
One member of the USNA Alumni that didn?t have to travel very far was Darren Sweeney, Class of ?98, who ventured down Route 97 from Gambrills for the event.
?This is great. This is my second year. It?s such a great cause and I love the charities that they are raising money for,? Sweeney said. ?I did an event two years ago that was a golf event that we actually sponsored by Truckin4Troops, so it?s great. It means a lot and the fact that it is a 24-hour event, you have people coming at four o?clock in the morning. It?s a testament that it means something to everyone.?
Even some local high school hockey teams paid the entry fee to play in the event, namely Archbishop Spalding, Severna Park and Annapolis. The Falcons and the Panthers followed the Warriors and the Alumni and despite the fierce rivalry that dates back to before the players on those respective teams were born, you would think they were playing an intra-squad scrimmage.
?This is a great event. Navy Youth Hockey has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars through this event and it?s a pleasure to participate in this,? Severna Park coach Eric St. Lawrence said. ?These kids (Annapolis and Severna Park) play together and play against each other in high school leagues and the local leagues, but they have a great time every time they show up here for this event. This is a great way to finish the season and we love being a part of it.?
During the overnight hours, when this reporter was getting his beauty sleep, men?s and women?s teams from the Navy recreational league took over the ice, except for the 3:25 a.m. to 4:25 a.m. time slot, where the NYH Under-16 Blue team faced Spalding. Then at 6:55 a.m., the youngsters took to the ice again, with the most intriguing matchups coming between 1:40 and 5 when three NYH teams competed against three West Point Jr. Black Knights squads.
?This event is fantastic. When it started a few years ago, I don?t think anybody expected it to be as popular as it has been to bring people back every year,? said Kristem Fleming, a member of the NYH Board of Directors and the Director of the Women?s Program. ?My family looks forward to this every year and it is close to my heart. My dad was a veteran. He passed away four years ago right before the event but the last thing he did was donate to Hockey for Heroes. He loved watching the kids play hockey. This event is just a good way to end the season.?
This year?s finale had the NYH Under-18 team playing against the NYH coaches in a game that has always been filled with entertainment value.
When all was said and done, after more than 100 individuals volunteered their time for hours on end, Hitt was hoping that this year?s marathon would raise close to $70,000.
?I just want to thank the Brigade Sports Complex staff, the Naval Academy, and always the veterans for their service,? Hitt said. ?Navy Youth Hockey is dedicated teaching players to love hockey and to develop them as players with the constant reminder that they have an ?N? on their chest and to always thank our veterans.?
From me, Mrs. Hitt, thank you for your efforts, thank you to all the teams that participated and most of all, thank you to our men and women, past, present and in the future, for your service.