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Stanley Cup Final

Lawmakers discuss love of hockey with Bettman

Thursday, 03.10.2011 / 7:37 PM / NHL Insider

NHL.com

It isn't unusual for the game of hockey to bring diverse groups of people together, and it was a bipartisan effort Thursday night in Washington, as a group of U.S. lawmakers challenged federal lobbyists in the third annual Congressional Hockey Challenge.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., along with Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind.,  Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., and  Pat Meehan, R-Pa., took time out from their efforts to raise money for the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club to appear on Thursday's "NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman."

Kerry said his passion for hockey began as a kid growing up in New Hampshire.

"We didn't even have indoor rinks back then -- it dates me," he said. "We played real pond hockey and we had rinks set up out on the ponds. Then the rinks came in and everything improved after that.

"I used to listen to Bruins games at night in my room, and you grew up with that. You grew up with the six original teams, that's where it was. And then of course you had those great, wonderful years with Bobby Orr and Johnny Bucyk and (John) 'Pie' McKenzie and all those guys."

Kerry got to enjoy a special moment a number of years ago when he participated in a charity game with comedian Denis Leary's Firefighters Foundation.

"There we were out on the ice, I faced off against Phil Esposito -- the dream of a lifetime," Kerry said.

Kerry plans to lead the Lawmakers team to a victory in the rubber match of the series -- they won the inaugural game but lost a year ago, a game Kerry missed following a pair of hip replacements that have curtailed his playing days for the most part.

"We're going to win, but I can't say by how much," he said. "I've skated three times since I had the new hips. Practiced last Monday, practiced the Monday before and practiced at Christmas. So you watch."

Bucshon, Higgins and Meehan actually joined the program during a break in the game and delivered the good news that the Lawmakers held a 1-0 lead at the time.

Higgins, who gave up a brief career as a referee to enroll in law school, has been following with great interest the progress of his hometown Buffalo Sabres, who have been on a tremendous run since Terry Pegula assumed ownership of the team.

"The city is on fire," Higgins said. "They're very excited. He's a fan's owner and he's committed to bringing the Stanley Cup to Buffalo, and everybody couldn't be happier with the new owner."

Bucshon, who grew up in Illinois as a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, has shared his lifelong love of hockey with his family.

"I have four kids that play hockey, all the way from age 18 to my daughter, who's age 7. We love the game," he said. "I picked it up as an adult, age 40 -- one of my kids started to play and I said, 'Let's all get on the ice.' So we learned it as a family, and it's really a pleasure to be out here for a great cause, for the kids. I know what hockey's meant to my family and I'm just here and happy to support the program."

The Congressional Hockey Challenge has raised approximately $100,000 since its inception, with the money helping to pay for equipment and other expenses for disadvantaged children in the Washington, D.C. area.

"It's giving the kids the chance," said Meehan, a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. "I think all of us remember -- I was a rink rat like so many kids, and this is the greatest game that man ever invented. If you played it, you learned to love it like no other sport. And to give kids that wouldn't have an opportunity to do it, to appreciate what it means to play hockey, it's the kind of a thing that they'll savor for the rest of their lives, and you never know, you'll see one of these kids perhaps playing someday up here in the show."

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery