Last night, this fortunate soul was able to make it to Ridder Arena and take in the Defending the Blue Line Charity/Alumni Game. Along with members of the Air Force and the Army, NHL stars, alumni, and former Gophers partnered with a great foundation to put on an incredible evening for the fans.
"But Jesse, what made it such a cool night?" you may be asking. Well, you'll have to make the jump to find out...The evening began with a youth practice and scrimmage for fans. While hockey "fans" may complain about quality of competition and "offensive entertainment", watching little boys and girls play hockey hits the soft spot for real fans. It was a really great, sentimental way to open the evening.
Fans also had a chance to get autographs signed by current and former hockey players that took the time out of their offseason to do this. Players like Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay Lightning), Drew Stafford (Buffalo Sabres), and Matt Hendricks (Washington Capitals) joined with Wild players Nate Prosser, Josh Harding, and Chad Rau to add to the fan experience. Of course, the King of the Players on this evening was Zach Parise, who I'm sure was asked countless times if he was going to sign with Minnesota.
Once every person got a chance to get an autograph or 20, the players hit the ice for the main event, Team Army vs. Team Airforce. It was actually quite entertaining for the viewers. Think of your local pond game with your friends, where it's wide open hockey, some defense, but a lot of skating and passing. Now think of the same game but with NHL players, Olympians, National Champions, and a former Governor of Minnesota (That's right, even Tim Pawlenty made time to come out and support the cause by lacing 'em up and playing with the big boys). The level of skill in this pond hockey game meant the action was flowing.
For fans who purchased tickets for the evening a raffle was held, with some pretty amazing prizes. While there was the standard array of gift cards, there were also used sticks from the players put into the raffle. The grand prize, brought by Minnesotan Kyle Okposo, was an Islander jersey signed by every player on the Islander roster. While it may be a New York team, not one of you would be willing to turn down a sweet item like that.
Fans also could take part in the silent auction during the game. Fans and media alike had the opportunity to bid on the jerseys used by the star players in the Charity Game. The high payout was for the Zach Parise jersey, which definitely went at a high price. Even Bryan and myself were fortunate enough to cast the winning bid on a jersey, with Bryan taking home the Gigi Marvin jersey, and I am now the proud owner of a Drew Stafford jersey. Of course, the money gained from the auctions went to benefit DTBL, so I would like to thank everyone that opened their wallets/purses and made a bid on the sweaters.
A great evening for an even better cause. Not to sound too much like a tele-a-thon, but if you can, please give something. The money used helps kids play hockey. Their parents help provide us with the freedom to play an incredible game, so please help the kids enjoy the same privileges that we all have.
To visit the site or make a donation, please visit the Defending the Blue Line.