Helping Hands Defending the Blue Line helps kids of servicemen stay connected to the
greatest sport on Earth
LOS ANGELES, CA -- It's never the wrong time to do the right thing.
Fans who bemoaned the lack of hockey during the lockout haven't been
heard from in months. It's a maddening pace in which NHL teams have
executed the compacted 48 game schedule.
Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk remarked last month that his team was
in the midst of a 15 games in 28 days stretch, while another GM
lamented that the roster should have been expanded to 30 players
because the scheduling is more like baseball than hockey. It's a legit
claim because we've seen three games series between teams and
back-to-back nights in the same venue with the same teams.
During a Kings home stand in March, I covered four games in six
nights, an unprecedented occurrence in my decade-plus at Staples
So with game content on overload as we head into the playoffs, it's
time to take a break from faceoff percentages and powerplay efficiency
to relate a story that serves the greater good and in which you can
lend a hand to a very worthy cause.
During the course of watching NHL games, you've seen commercials for
the charity, Defending the Blue Line, a non-profit with the
mission of ensuring that children of military members are afforded
every opportunity to participate in the game of hockey.
DTBL accomplished this by providing free hockey equipment (courtesy of
the NHLPA's Goals and Dreams Foundation, and Graf Canada), access to
some of the finest summer hockey camps at no cost, and grants to help
with local association fees. In addition, the non-profit goes the
extra step by providing unique experiences for military families
including attending a NHL game.
The concept of Defending the Blue Line was created by
Minnesotan Shane Hudella in 2009. He's still serving in active duty
for the Minnesota Army National Guard after two decades and was
deployed for Operation Desert Storm in 1990. Now in its fourth year of
existence, one would think that it took a long time to conceptualize
and birth the idea.
"As crazy as it sounds, I woke up one morning with the concept of
Defending the Blue Line," he said. "I reached out to some of my
contacts in the Army and at the Minnesota Wild and their lone response
was 'how can we help?' That gave me the impetus to go home and start
formalizing the mission."
Hudella cites three players that immediately jumped into the fray to
kick start his efforts, then-Wild now-Shark Brent Burns was front and
center from Day One, while Florida Panthers forward George Parros and
the departed Derek Boogaard help to form the foundation of NHL players
support, "they had the star power and mojo to get this rolling from
day one and we haven't looked back since."
Burns has been the primary face of the player efforts and he hosted
military families in a suite at the Shark Tank on April 1 during San
Jose's Military Appreciation Night.
The list of NHL supporters continues to grow, at least count 17 active
players (including David Backes and Ryan Kesler) and 15 NHL teams have
thrown their support behind DTBL.
"We've shipped hockey equipment to families of servicemen in 42 U.S.
states and we've been able to outfit 500 kids from head to toe in
addition to have them attend hockey camps. During the lockout the
running joke was that the only thing the players and owners could
agree upon was to help Defending the Blue Line," Shane
As acceptance of the concept grew, Shane cites a defining moment the
"One day I said to myself, this is a great idea but there's a lot of
work to it," he recanted, laughingly. "I was playing goalie in a men's
league on a Friday afternoon and had just left the ice. My cell phone
rang and I normally don't answer it but for some reason I did. It was
Brian Williams from NBC News calling to do a story on us and the night
it ran we got $10,000 in online donations and a barrage of contacts
from hockey programs all over the country asking how they could help.
It was the affirmation we needed to show us that we had a great
As for the selection of a recipient for the charity's effort it varies
on a case by case basis, "Having served for a long for a long time, I
have a pretty deep network of military folks and I will reach out to
one of our program managers when a worthy family comes across our
path. Others have seen a commercial on TV and will go to our website
and request assistance," Hudella explains.
Shane and his organization have helped kids stay connected to the game
in the States and now has taken the initiative to expand their work
into Canada as well as other professional sports. If you need a
compelling reason to donate to this cause, its leader conveys a tale
about the one child that stands out in his memory over the rest.
"All these kids are really special but the one who stands out in my
mind is the son of a KIA (killed-in-action) who was the first one we
helped when Brent Burns got to San Jose," he said. "When you see the
reality of a seven year old boy who lost his dad in the war it hits
home. Riley Richards and his dad used to watch hockey together and for
us to be able to step in and put him in equipment and do a couple of
other special things for that family, it tells me we do make a
"With the KIA families, it's so important to keep the kids connected
to hockey because it gives them a community to lean on in an
incredibly difficult time. We'll never be able to replace his dad or
express enough gratitude for his service but hopefully we can help him
stay involved to the extent where his hockey coach could be a
potential father figure, there's so many parallels between the
military and hockey communities."
So after you dry your eyes after that story, here's how you can help.
"The biggest challenge any non-profit has these days to remain
competitive is to get help financially and thatâ€™s the number one way a
fan can assist while a local hockey association can contact us to
arrange an equipment donation and thatâ€™s how we get gear on most of
the kids," Shane explained.
The best way for you to be a hero to the next deserving kid is to
visit the website
DefendingTheBlueLine.com and do what