Hockey in Michigan has enjoyed a long tradition of excellence. With so much history comes a competitiveness among teams and towns, where players battle hard for on-ice supremacy.
But for two 12 & Under girls’ teams from different parts of the state, that competitive spirit was put on hold over the course of two Saturdays in December as the Kensington Valley Ravens and Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association Panthers came together to honor the sacrifice and service of those who serve or have served in the Armed Forces.
Through the sale of special T-shirts along with the generosity of local sponsors and those in attendance, the two teams raised more than $4,000 for the Wounded Warriors Project.
During the home-and-home series, the home team wore camouflaged jerseys and pregame festivities featured a local Marine Corp color guard and special national anthem singers.
The highlight of the event were appearances from Larry Hicks, a World War II veteran from Grand Rapids, and Lance Cpl. Bobby Thrailkill, a member of the Grand Rapids Sled Wings who lost both his legs while serving in Afghanistan. Both veterans participated in the ceremonial puck drop, and then greeted the players.
With all the pregame excitement, the games almost seemed like an afterthought for both teams.
Still, it was moving experience for everyone involved, and something that these young hockey players will never forget.
“The cool thing about it is you have two teams from different sides of the state who are competitive but they came together and appreciate what they have and acknowledge those who have sacrificed so much for people,” said Grand Rapids coach Kim Hildebrand.
“You’re planting seeds with these kids and hopefully it sink in for them. Someday they’ll look back and say ‘wow.’ By the time they’re an adult they will hopefully realize what an amazing moment this was.”