A mix of military camo, officers uniforms and formal evening attire filled the Mystic Lake Grand Ballroom on June 28. Defending the Blue Line's annual Camo Gala welcomed military and hockey families alike to the evening event all about supporting military families and the sport of hockey. Entertainment was on hand too, the night's events capped off with a performance from country music sensation Kellie Pickler.
"This is a great opportunity to recognize those who have done so much to advance our cause," said Shane Hudella, Founder and President of Defending the Blue Line.
Autographed jerseys, sticks and bags lined the room for interested bidders, with proceeds benefiting military families and the costs that come with playing hockey and other sports.
Mitch Prust has been involved with Defending the Blue Line for the past four years. With a military background (developing IT solutions for the Department of Defense) Prust quickly recognized the importance of the organization to military families. His passion for hockey also helped.
"Bringing those two things together is wonderful," said Prust, who serves on Defending the Blue Line's Board of Directors. "I just wanted to be involved in such a great organization and I'm thrilled to say I am a part of it."
Prust admits that it was through Defending the Blue Line that he began to play hockey. He didn't pick up a stick until his adult years, but when the NHL's Brent Burns and U.S. Olympian Gigi Marvin are involved in you learning the game, you don't say no.
"I got a text message from a friend saying that Brent Burns would be playing and I was like yes, do I need pads?" joked Prust. "Now I play twice a week. Through being involved with Defending the Blue Line, I have been given the chance to skate with some of the better players. I can tell you there's nothing worse than when Gigi Marvin looks back and sees you and gets nervous to pass the puck backwards. It's a way to learn."
Prust is just one of the many on hand to help make Saturday's Gala and other Defending the Blue Line events possible. Volunteers prepare decorations and NHL players who serve on the board invite their hockey playing friends to join the cause.
For 14-year-old Brenden, who's dad is an officer in the military, being around some of the sport's top names was a dream come true.
"It's pretty cool to be out here and see all of this," said Brenden, who plays goalie on his team back home in California. "Hockey's just a great sport and it's awesome that there is something like this to help families like mine and lots of others."
And that's what Defending the Blue Line is all about.
"Tonight is all about them," said Prust. "It's about those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in our country. Add in the amazing work of the NHL players involved and it's really a great thing to see."
NHL players traded in their jerseys for suits, with plenty of notable names in attendance. Here are a few things discussed..
Justin Faulk, South St. Paul, Carolina Hurricanes
On being at the Camo Gala..."It's a great opportunity to show some respect for our military. Anytime you can do that and be a part of any type of charity is always great. I've always been a big supporter of military families and it's an honor to be out here.
On Kellie Pickler..."It's a little icing on the cake to top it off with a big performance like that."
On the offseason..."The offseason has been fun. It's a little longer than I would have liked, but it's good to get back home and do some light workouts and see everyone.
On what makes Minnesota great..."I think it's just all of the guys that are around. Look at all the NHL players who are from here and they always come back and live here. It makes it that much more fun to come together and hangout. There's just nothing else quite like calling Minnesota home."
On chirping his fellow Minnesotans now turned opponents..."(Laughs) There's usually plenty of chirping going on when we run into each other at events and stuff like this. If there's not, something's usually wrong."
Jordan Schroeder, Lakeville, Minnesota Wild
On the Camo Gala..."I'm honored to come out here and be a part of this. As hockey players, to come and help out to support a cause like this that benefits our military and increases exposure to our game, it couldn't be any better."
On working toward his degree in the offseason..."Most of my summer has been busy. I'm actually taking classes at the U (University of Minnesota) since I left early I never finished my degree. I think that's something that's really important to me, to finish that up and get that business degree."
On playing for the home team..."Growing up you want to play in front of your family and friends here in Minnesota. I was able to do that a bit with the Gophers but to join the Wild has been great. You can't really compare Minnesota's hockey culture to anywhere else, maybe Canada. It's a great feeling to be from here and to play here."
Zach Parise, Minneapolis, Minnesota Wild
On honoring his dad, J.P. Parise, during the Gala for his work with DTBL..."I know my dad was on their board and was a part of (Defending the Blue Line) for awhile. It meant a lot to him and I know our family wants to keep that going. For us, it's all about getting the word out there. We just want to continue doing what he was doing and continue to work as much as we can with them."
On Kellie Pickler..."I listen to a little bit of everything really. I'm not sure I could pick out a song of hers, but I think it will be a nice performance."
On the offseason..."The offseason has been really good. It's mostly been filled with spending time with the family. I've been spending a lot of time with the kids, which has been awesome. I've done a little fishing here and there, caught a couple bass but not a whole lot."
On the importance of taking a break in the offseason...'I was always raised to do other things, play other sports, not just be hockey, hockey, hockey, and it benefited me. I think at a younger age it's about becoming a better athlete, not just a better hockey player. My brother and I would always be playing baseball, golf, tennis, soccer, football, we did everything. Especially now (in the NHL) you play so much in the winter, you need that good month off to just relax and take a break from the game. We don't start skating until two months after the season, we need the rest and when you're young, you really need the rest."
For more information on Defending the Blue line visit: http://www.defendingtheblueline.org/