A little more than two years ago, Corey Hirsch's older sister gave him an idea.
Bridget Hirsch, a student at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, had recently seen her school participate in a charity hockey game benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. She took a few pictures at the event and sent some information to her family, thinking it might be something they could replicate back home.
Corey thought it was a great idea.
Then a sophomore at DeMatha, Corey approached coach Tony MacAulay about doing something similar with the Stags hockey team. He wanted to use hockey as a way to recognize his father, Jeff, a captain in the Navy. He wanted an opportunity to support the troops.
Now, that dream is a reality.
DeMatha will take on Mount St. Joseph in the second annual American Heroes Hockey Challenge on Friday night at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel, and the proceeds will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.
"I'm pretty thankful I get to do it in my senior year here," Hirsch said. "It means a lot to us."
The game is only in its second year, but it has already seen substantial growth since Hirsch first formulated the idea two years ago.
Run in conjunction with Hockey Helpers — a charity program founded by Hobart graduate Ryan Adler in 2007 — the American Heroes Hockey Challenge raised $18,979 last year, a number event coordinator Lori Mezzanotte expects to equal or exceed this year.
It's already bigger than Hirsch expected.
When he approached MacAulay and his mother, Kathy, with the idea, he thought the game would just be a scrimmage between DeMatha's varsity and junior varsity teams. He thought they would be able to raise "at the most" around $10,000.
But when the Stags took the ice last year, they weren't playing their junior varsity team — instead, they were playing rival Gonzaga (D.C.). And they didn't present the Wounded Warrior Project with a check for $10,000 — instead, they donated more than $18,000.
"I thought it was a great idea, but I knew it would be quite an undertaking," MacAulay said. "In no way, shape, or form did we put up a goal of $10,000, $12,000 and say, 'OK, this is the amount of money we want to raise.' We really had no idea."
Much of that credit goes to the players. MacAulay said they have put in a lot of work outside of school and practice, volunteering to gather sponsors and do community service with wounded veterans.
Their contributions have not gone unnoticed.
This year's game has received sponsorship from 50 to 60 different families and local businesses, according to Mezzanotte.
There will also be a silent auction to benefit the USA Warriors ice hockey program — a rehabilitation program for wounded veterans — with several items, including a football helmet autographed by Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III and a hockey stick autographed by Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom.
"I remember [the players] saying so fondly that it was such a rewarding experience for them. Not just playing in the game, but everything that went into it," MacAulay said. "And this is them taking into account they played in the [Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League] championship game last year in the state finals."
The game takes on a special meaning for Hirsch. He grew up in a military family, and his father is currently serving his third tour in Afghanistan.
To honor Jeff Hirsch and the rest of the armed forces, both teams will wear specially designed camouflage jerseys. Seven players will also wear the name of a fallen soldier on the back of their uniform, including Hirsch, who will represent Navy SEAL Lt. Brendan Looney, a family friend and DeMatha graduate who was killed in Afghanistan in September 2010.
Ultimately, Friday night's contest is just another regular-season game for both teams. But when the two squads step onto the ice, Hirsch said it's going to feel like much more than that.
"Usually every game we're playing for each other, we're playing to win. This game, I think it's more than that," Hirsch said. "We're not playing for ourselves or playing to win. We're playing to represent whoever is sponsoring the Wounded Warriors on their back.
"It's a lot more than a game."