There is more hockey being played in Kandahar right now than in the NHL.
That’s right, deployed soldiers get to blow off steam by playing organized hockey games, thanks in part to the organization Sticks for Troops.
“Our goal is to provide equipment to troops to aid in the positive morale and teamwork generated through hockey and other team sports,” said John Lindner, founder of the organization.
Sticks for Troops gathers hockey and other sports equipment to send to Kandahar Airfield and other USO locations in Afghanistan. So far, it has sent 50 sticks, along with equipment donated by the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.
While hockey isn’t new to the Kandahar base -- it's had an outdoor rink for several years now -- soldiers have used up the hockey equipment quicker than it can be replenished.
"All the gear we sent was either new or lightly used," Lindner said.
The rink, which is used for foot hockey, touch football, dodge ball and other sports, is on a joint NATO base, so several American, European, and civilian contractors participate in the games. Lindner said he hears they have an organized hockey league and host international tournaments.
Although he's found support from players such as Karl Alzner of the Capitals, Lindner believes that the NHL lockout may be keeping more equipment from being donated. "We have spoken to a few players, current and former, as well as some other people in the sports world that planned to assist in securing equipment, although the NHL lockout has prevented them from gaining access to extra equipment they could have donated," he said.
The equipment, which took about a month to ship, arrived just the other day, but a few weeks after an actual professional hockey player visited the the base. Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, (along with Nationals pitchers Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen), spent a week on a USO tour in December led by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Here’s a video of a hockey game at the rink from a few years ago: