The focus of No. 10 DeMatha is the “DM” emblazoned on the front of its jerseys for the first 31 games of the season. Like most high school teams, hockey or otherwise, the Stags play for their school, not the individual.
But for one game every season, it’s the name on the back of the shirt, not the front, that’s the most important.
DeMatha (10-18-3) and Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph will set aside their usual jerseys to wear custom camouflage uniforms with the last names of 13 deceased and 11 living soldiers as part of the third annual American Heroes Hockey Challenge.
The game between the Stags and the Gaels is expected to raise more than $18,000 for the Wounded Warrior project and the USA Warrior Hockey Program team through donations, sponsorships, a raffle, silent auction and ticket sales.
DeMatha alumnus Corey Hirsch presented the idea to Coach Tony MacAulay after his sister watched a charity hockey game at Hobart and William Smith College and sent photos of the event to her family.
The game raised more than $38,000 in the past two years under the direction of organizer Lori Mezzanotte and with support from the team, community and the charity program Hockey Helpers.
“The first year, we had a humble goal of trying to reach four digits as a number to write a check for,” MacAulay recalled. “Lo and behold, the total was $17,500 for year one. We really overshot our expectations.”
The game features an emotional opening ceremony that honors the names on the back of the jerseys, which are represented in the stands either by the living soldiers or the families of those that have passed.
“They’ll read out the names and the families rise — it’s really hard to get through the opening ceremony,” Mezzanotte said. “It’s pretty emotional. You can see it on the boys’ faces. It’s a game that’s become very positive, and it doesn’t matter what type of season they’re having, when they get to that game, I think it’s better than any championship.”
Mezzanotte’s cousin was killed in Afghanistan in December of 2011 while she was planning the first event. Her cousin’s family will travel up from North Carolina for the game. Many of the players for the Warriors — a program for injured military veterans that uses hockey as a rehabilitation tool — also plan to attend.
The Stags started staying after practice on Wednesdays to work with the Warriors during the first year of planning. MacAulay recalls one of his players coming into his office near tears after a skate with the Warriors.
The student had been working with a double-amputee, and was distraught that the veteran was only two years older than him.
“What these guys, the Warriors, have been through is phenomenal,” MacAulay said. “They’re so close in age, many of them struck up friendships.”
This year’s special guest is retired General John P. Jumper, the former chief of staff for the U.S. Air Force, who will speak to both teams before the game as part of a buildup to the night that focuses on “teaching moments,” MacAulay said.
“We show them videos of the Warriors playing sled hockey — sometimes a bad day at the rink is still better than a good day at school, and we need to be thankful for what we have,” MacAulay said.
“The ceremony only heightens the energy, in my opinion. The players get extremely wound up, as do the fans watching. They’re all there for a reason, and wearing those names for a reason, so the players just want to impress.”
Certain soldiers are represented year after year, such as Brendan Looney, a DeMatha grad and Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan in September 2010. His roommate from the Naval Academy, Travis Manion, passed away in 2007 inIraq and will also be honored Friday.
Senior captain Steve Partlow’s family donated to receive a custom jersey for the event, but he won’t be wearing his own name on the ice. His great-grandfather, grandfather and father all served in the military. His favorite part of the game is the puck drop.
“It’s a very emotional time in the game and everyone gets into it, everyone is paying attention,” he said.
DeMatha sophomore Christian Golczynski will drop the puck in honor of his father, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.
“It’s good for us all to realize that at the end of the day, it’s just a game and there’s more important things,” Partlow said.
Glenelg scored three goals in the third period and Johnny Lyons had a hat trick in a come-from-behind, 4-1 win against Howard to secure a spot in the Howard Conference championship. They’ll face Atholton Friday in Laurel. The winner will represent the conference in the Maryland Student Hockey League 2A championships. The other conferences will play championship games next week.
Atholton took a close 3-2 decision against Marriotts Ridge. . .Wootton won against Sherwood, 9-1. . . Churchill beat Bethesda-Chevy Chase. . . Spalding and Landon played to a 2-2 draw.
1. Gonzaga (20-0-1) LW: 1
2. Atholton (11-0) LW: 2
3. Wootton (11-1) LW: 3
4. Langley (6-1-1) LW: 4
5. Stone Bridge (8-1) LW: 5
6. Briar Woods (6-1) LW: 6
7. Churchill (12-2-1) LW: 7
8. Spalding (5-4-3) LW: 8
9. Landon (6-2-2) LW: 9
10. DeMatha (10-18-3) LW: 10
Records through Tuesday.