Now in its third year, the Andover Huskies Youth Hockey Association gave its mite-level players a taste of outdoor hockey in the annual Winter Classic on Hockey Day in Minnesota.
More than 476 players on 35 teams competed on the rinks west of Andover City Hall on Crosstown Boulevard in a jamboree format tournament.
New this year was the inclusion of several youth hockey programs from across the Twin Cities. It also helped raise money for Defending the Blue Line, a non-profit established to help military families continue or start playing hockey with donated hockey equipment, Minnesota Wild tickets and an annual hockey camp for military families among other events.
This was the first time Defending the Blue Line was included in the event which included presenting of a Color Guard and national anthem between games Saturday afternoon.
Among those presenting the colors were Andover High School seniors Cassie Jindra and Nick Robinette, along with Pfc. Acie Matthews.
Players made two rows and lifted their sticks while a skater with the State of Hockey flag skated between them to start the ceremony.
A silent auction offered families and hockey fans a chance to bid on items like Gophers men’s hockey tickets, oil changes, a boat launch on Mille Lacs, Andover Huskies fan apparel and a movie basket full snacks and a couple of movies to enjoy on a cold winter evening.
In addition, concessions were served inside the warming house, there was an ice sculpture and a small bonfire between the rinks helped keep spectators warm.
Teams began play Friday evening before venturing back to the rinks early Saturday morning for two more games on one of two boarded rinks at the park. When they weren’t playing, kids joined in on an informal pick-up game on a third, snowbank-lined rink. Last year the classic included a silent auction to help with the Jack Jablonski organization.
This year, co-event organizers Kelly Babineau and Jessica Stringfellow invited the National Guard and Defending the Blue Line to take part because of the number of families with members in the military and the ability to donate to a hockey-specific cause. Babineau’s husband, Rick, is a member of the Minnesota National Guard and served in Bosnia in 2003-04. The Babineaus have two children Logan, 8, and Luke, 6, on the Andover Flyers, which took to the ice at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.
Parents came up to Kelly and Rick Babineau to tell them how great it was to see competitive outdoor hockey for the mites-level players.
“It’s a great community event and it’s a nice way to meet new friends,” Kelly said about being a first-year hockey mom.
Rick noted how many veterans approached him to share their thanks as he wore his Army National Guard uniform.
Defending the Blue Line volunteer and Iraq veteran Cory Syfko shared the organization’s thanks for the support it received from the Andover Huskies Youth Hockey Association and urged people to continue to support DTBL through additional events.
Defending the Blue Line sold its hooded sweatshirts, pucks, banners and other items of which all of the proceeds went toward camps and equipment for military families.
The third annual Skate for the Troops event will be held at the John Rose Oval in Roseville Feb. 17 with a free open skate, fund-raising activities and a game between DTBL Military All Stars and the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association. Check out defendingtheblueline.com for more information.