For 24 straight hours next weekend, hockey players will be passing, checking and taking shots on goal during an end-of-season fundraiser to benefit wounded members of the military.
"Hockey for Heroes" was the brainchild of Amy Hitt, an Annapolis hockey mom who inspired by the annual "Shootout for Soldiers" round-the-clock lacrosse game in Baltimore.
"I was like, 'Man, we've got to do this,' " she said. "We've got the rink. Why don't we do it with hockey?"
Hitt pitched her idea to fellow volunteers with Navy Youth Hockey, and after months of planning and seeking military approvals, the event is set for this Friday, March 15, through Saturday.
Organizers have lined up teams for 22 consecutive games, ranging from the youngest "mite" hockey players to teen travel teams to a team of Naval Academy alumni.
But the showcase will be Friday night games featuring teams from USA Warriors Ice Hockey, one of two veterans groups benefiting from the tournament.
USA Warriors will bring its standing ice hockey team and its sled hockey team, both made up of injured veterans, according to Tony Campanella, USA Warriors' director of events.
Campanella said many USA Warriors players are recruited through the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Some stay on with the team after treatment if they remain in the Washington area.
The goal of USA Warriors is twofold, he said: to provide wounded vets a chance to be part of a team again, and to educate the public about battlefield injuries and the need to support veterans.
"These men and women, they're going to be with us for the next 60 years," Campanella said. "They're not going anywhere. We need to make sure the public knows that even though you're missing a leg, an arm, an eye, you're still a whole person."
Some USA Warriors also have "invisible wounds" such as traumatic brain injuries. Most served in Iraq or Afghanistan, though some athletes served in Bosnia and in the first Gulf War, Campanella said.
The standing hockey team is for players who can skate standing up, including some who play with prostheses. They'll play against the Naval Academy alumni team.
The sled hockey team is for players whose injuries make traditional skating impossible. Instead they use a sled mounted on a single blade. The players have special sticks. With one end they propel themselves; the other end is used to hit the puck.
Because there are so few high-level sled hockey teams, the USA Warriors sled team will divide into two squads for a scrimmage during the Hockey for Heroes event.
Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Young, 29, has been playing with on the USA Warriors standing team for nearly a year. Currently stationed at Fort Meade, he plans to retire soon but hopes to land a job in the area so he can stay with the USA Warriors, who practice in Montgomery County.
Young never played organized hockey as a kid but was drawn to the Warriors for the benefit of "having that tight-knit group of people that understand each other," he said. "We don't have to sit around and talk about our injuries. We understand what each other is going through."
Young said he not only loves the challenge of hockey but likes playing for supportive crowds. Though he doesn't like delving into details of his military experience, he hopes to inspire people, "to let them know that things can get bad sometimes, but there's always a way to come up from that. You keep going on."
During the Hockey for Heroes marathon, the USA Warriors will play at the relatively normal times of 7:10 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. Friday to kick off the festivities. But Campanella noted that scarce ice time means all hockey players "are used to playing at odd, weird hours anyway."
After the Warriors games, Hockey for Heroes will feature a local high school showdown between Broadneck and Annapolis-Old Mill, which just won a state title.
Alex Worgo, a 17-year-old Broadneck senior, is hoping to win bragging rights with a defeat of Annapolis-Old Mill while supporting a worthy cause.
Ben Lyons, a 17-year-old senior at Annapolis, said he's looking forward to the matchup.
"It seems fun, just playing a game like this for the cause," he said.
Each participating team was challenged to raise $1,000 before the tournament to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides services to wounded veterans.
During the event, proceeds from concession sales, donations and a silent auction will go to the USA Warriors teams, which work in partnership with the Disabled American Veterans.
Hitt, whose teenage sons Davis and Henry will play, said she's had no problem lining up teams, volunteers and donations. Even the referees are donating their services.
"It was not hard to get people to buy into the idea," she said.
If you go
Hockey for Heroes will run from 6 p.m. Friday, March 14, through 6 p.m. Saturday, March 15, at the McMullen Ice Arena in the Naval Academy Brigade Sports Complex, 64 Greenbury Point Road in Annapolis. Admission is free for spectators; donations will be accepted.
Information and game schedule: navyyouthhockey.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun