June 22, 2017
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  • The round-the-clock Hockey for Heroes tournament featured 25 friendly games with kids and adult clubs, with all proceeds going to wounded-veteran charities.
    Photos by Richard Marshall
    The round-the-clock Hockey for Heroes tournament featured 25 friendly games with kids and adult clubs, with all proceeds going to wounded-veteran charities.
  • The round-the-clock Hockey for Heroes tournament featured 25 friendly games with kids and adult clubs, with all proceeds going to wounded-veteran charities.
    Photos by Richard Marshall
    The round-the-clock Hockey for Heroes tournament featured 25 friendly games with kids and adult clubs, with all proceeds going to wounded-veteran charities.
  • The round-the-clock Hockey for Heroes tournament featured 25 friendly games with kids and adult clubs, with all proceeds going to wounded-veteran charities.
    Photos by Richard Marshall
    The round-the-clock Hockey for Heroes tournament featured 25 friendly games with kids and adult clubs, with all proceeds going to wounded-veteran charities.

Hockey For Heroes Tournament Supports Wounded Veterans

Richard Marshall
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March 22, 2017

For the fourth consecutive year, the Navy Youth Hockey organization hosted its season-ending Hockey for Heroes event March 10 and 11 at the McMullen Ice Arena in Annapolis. The 24-hour ice hockey tournament to benefit wounded U.S. military veteran organizations has become both a mainstay and annual favorite for the club and local ice hockey community, creating an energetic and powerful fundraiser that brings families, players, companies and fans together for some worthwhile causes.

The round-the-clock tournament features 25 friendly games with kids, schools and adult clubs signing up to compete and, more importantly, fundraise for several local and nationwide wounded-veteran charities. The event’s growth, with more than 700 players and nearly 100 volunteers, is a testament to the expansion of hockey in the region and the generosity of the Navy club toward veterans. This year’s tournament beneficiaries include the USA Warriors Ice Hockey organization, the Disabled American Veterans charity, the Wounded Warrior Project, paws4vets, Truckin4Troops and the Annapolis-based Valhalla Sailing Project.

“These events are perfect environments to meet more veterans and their families and engage with them about what we have to offer, as well as educate the civilian population about the veteran suicide epidemic and the efforts being taken to prevent it,” summarized Rob Sampson of Valhalla.

Sampson mentioned that portions of the donated funds will help offset costs associated with course materials and participant crew gear for Annapolis-area sailing clinics. Sampson and Valhalla aim to increase their offerings during the 2017 sailing year, highlighting that the contacts made through Hockey for Heroes “greatly expands our network.”

Joining the Navy Youth hockey teams in the tournament were four Army youth hockey teams for some Army-Navy on-ice clashes, Broadneck High School’s squad, a U.S. Naval Academy alumni team, and the USA Warriors standing team, among others.

Pasadena native Lori Mezzanotte, president and general manager of the USA Warriors Hockey teams, was in attendance for the marquee March matchup between the USA Warriors standing team against a combined lineup of youth hockey coaches from hometown Navy and the visiting West Point, New York-based Army teams. Shortly after Naval Academy Superintendent Vice Admiral Walter “Ted” Carter dropped the ceremonial puck, Mezzanotte described how she became involved with the USA Warriors.

“I started supporting my son’s high school hockey charity event after my cousin, Major Samuel Griffith, United State Marine Corps, was killed on his third tour in Afghanistan in 2011,” recalled Mezzanotte.

Her level of commitment continued to grow in the years after that tragedy. Starting as the manager for the USA Warriors sled hockey team, she eventually became president of the organization in 2015 and now manages the organization’s busy nationwide travel schedule and outreach efforts to expand the club’s programs and membership. This season, USA Warrior standing and sled teams have played in Ohio, Las Vegas and Vermont, in addition to home games in Maryland and charity events like Hockey for Heroes. Lori noted that over half of the players do not have an ice hockey playing background before they sign up for club, many of whom join while undergoing treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center. In a lively and spirited game, the Warriors, composed entirely of service-disabled veterans, lived up to the “None Tougher” team moniker printed on their jerseys.

Later that night, the crowd thinned, but the games played on. At 3:15am on March 11, a gaggle of 13- and 14-year-old players from Navy began to shuffle into the rink to prepare for their 4:10am matchup against cross-county rival Metro. While parents sought warm cups of coffee, the Navy Bantam team wiped sleep from their eyes in the locker room and prepared for their final game of the season.

Magothy River Middle School eighth-grader Nate Lime, operating on only two hours of sleep, suited up for the game. “I watched the Warriors play, which was really cool. I went home after the high school game Friday night and tried not to fall asleep before my game, but I couldn’t stay awake,” Nate admitted.

When Nate wasn’t playing his game or watching some of the others, he volunteered to help raise money for the charities. “I helped sell T-shirts and raffle tickets,” he said. “I probably helped earn a few hundred dollars.”

The event’s success was strengthened not only by the many volunteers but also through generous financial support from the participating teams, families and fans, as well as local companies, many of whom provided silent auction items, like the gift package from Severna Park’s Great American Car Wash. The event tournament raised more than $75,000 for the designated charities.

Amy Hitt, the tournament’s lead organizer, proudly pointed out, “It was truly a club-wide effort, and we did a great thing for America’s disabled veterans – we thanked, honored and celebrated our service men and women for 24 consecutive hours. We reminded ourselves that freedom isn't free.”


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