With Veterans Day already a longstanding November staple, two North American Hockey League (NAHL) North Division teams are among those helping to honor past and present members of the U.S. military.
The Springfield Jr. Blues and Traverse City North Stars are amidst those teams sporting special commemorative jerseys in tribute to the nation’s servicemen and women, with the Blues holding their second annual “Armed Forces Appreciation Night” last Friday at the Nelson Center, and Traverse City hosting “North Stars Never Forget” this coming weekend in a three-game series with St. Louis at Centre ICE Arena.
Springfield-area servicemen unfurled a gigantic American flag on the ice prior to the Blues’ Friday game during a stirring rendition of the national anthem, also performed by local veterans. Their camouflage jerseys were auctioned off through Saturday’s game, with proceeds benefiting local veterans charities.
“With Thursday being Veterans Day, it was a pretty easy call,” said Springfield head coach Andy Maher. “It’s really important that these kids and the community come together to honor everybody who’s (fighting for our country) or has served in the past. We have an opportunity to do something special for them, to honor some local families who have recently lost loved ones. It was a no-brainer.”
The North Stars will also bounce camouflage game sweaters this weekend, with silent auction proceeds earmarked for the Grand Traverse Area Veterans Memorial Park and Assistance Fund. Fans can also bring care package items such as non-perishables, playing cards and miscellaneous sundries that will be packaged and delivered to members of the military currently serving overseas in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan through the Operation American Soldier initiative.
Players also participated in Traverse City’s Veterans Day flag parade, bearing huge American flags through the city’s busiest thoroughfare.
“The profile of the North American Hockey League gives us a platform - a forum through which we can help bring awareness to certain issues and help raise funds for organizations that serve the community,” explained Traverse City head coach Anthony Palumbo. “And saying thanks to those who have served in the various branches of the military while raising a few dollars for veterans organizations this time of year is a natural.
“It’s only because of those people and the sacrifices so many families have made that we’re able to have the chance to do what we do. We want them to know that we and everybody else appreciates their service.”
The Blues, who claimed a 3-1 victory in Friday’s contest in front of almost 1,500 fans, were buoyed by the wave of emotion that the pre-game ceremonies brought.
“Absolutely, the atmosphere was electric in there,” Maher added. “There were a lot of people in the building, and I don’t know the exact dimensions of the huge flag, but it covered up the neutral zone. We wanted to come out and play well, no doubt about it.”
NORTH DIVISION NOTEBOOK
CHICAGO HITMEN: Nicholas Kohn stopped 66 of 70 shots he faced last weekend, helping the Hitmen to a split with Janesville at West Meadows. Kohn penned a masterpiece in the series finale, with 24 saves in a 3-0 shutout victory. It was the Hartland, Wis. native’s fifth win, and first shutout. Newly acquired forward Jackson Bray delivered the game-winning tally on Saturday.
JANESVILLE JETS: Connor McBride had two goals and an assist on Friday - including the game-winning tally 6:37 into the second period - to power Janesville past host Chicago, 4-2. The Jets unleashed 46 shots in the win, including an astonishing 22 in the first period alone.
MICHIGAN WARRIORS: Andrew Kolb erupted for three regulation goals and a shootout marker in a 5-4 triumph in the Warriors’ only game last weekend. Kolb, of Toledo, Ohio, brought Michigan back from a 3-0 deficit with a natural hat trick on Friday, evening the score in a span of just 2:35 in the second period at Perani Arena. His lamplighter in the third round of the shootout session proved to be the difference as the Warriors improved to 11-7-1.
MOTOR CITY METAL JACKETS: In one of the weekend’s most exciting matchups, NAHL leading scorer Cody Wydo connected for his 18th goal of the season with 9:42 to play on Saturday, giving the Metal Jackets a 2-1 victory over host St. Louis. Wydo now has 40 points in 20 games, and nine points in his last five outings.
PORT HURON FIGHTING FALCONS: To say that Louis Educate is acclimating to his new surroundings would be an understatement. A week after being dealt to the Fighting Falcons, the Libertyville, Ill., product set a team mark with four goals in a 5-4 shootout setback at Michigan. Educate opened the game with a trio of first-period goals, the first natural hat trick in the club’s brief history. He has five goals and two assists in four games since coming to Port Huron.
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Grant Gettinger had two goals and three assists, and Nick Carey scored three goals and assisted on another as the Bandits cemented their position atop the North Division standings by taking two of three from Motor City last weekend. Five different St. Louis players scored in a 5-1 win on Friday, while the Bandits unsheathed 49 shots in a 6-3 victory on Sunday, including 25 in the second frame alone. The St. Louis defense held the high-scoring Jackets to an average of two goals per outing, less than half their per-game average this season.