SAN DIEGO – Lying on his stomach and peering through the scope of an m4 rifle at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Luca Sbisa was aiming to shoot in a far different manner than he is normally accustomed.
|“I have never even had a gun in my hand, so that was something special,” Sbisa said. “It’s been awesome. Just seeing this whole thing, it’s a huge base. Seeing what guys do on a daily basis is pretty special.” |
Anaheim’s defenseman normally fires hockey pucks at goaltenders for a living, but on Friday he and the Ducks coaching staff had the opportunity to get hands-on training by the United State Marine Corps at a shooting range. It was among the activities for the group during a tour of the base, located roughly 83 miles south of Honda Center.
“I have never even had a gun in my hand, so that was something special,” Sbisa said. “It’s been awesome. Just seeing this whole thing, it’s a huge base. Seeing what guys do on a daily basis is pretty special.”View Photo Gallery
The special visit was developed through the Ducks’ support of Defending the Blue Line, a non-profit organization that helps keep military kids active, healthy and engaged in hockey when their parents are serving. Members of the San Diego Jr. Gulls Mite hockey team and their families, who have been aided by the charity, were also on hand for the eventful day.
“It’s a great opportunity and the first time Defending the Blue Line has been able to make that connection with our organization, the local service members and the Anaheim Ducks,” said Shane Hudella, President and Founder of Defending the Blue Line. “The Ducks have been great about supporting military folks in Southern California. We are trying to grow our program in this area as well and just let the local service members know that we have a great partnership with the Ducks.”
Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, his assistants Bob Woods and Brad Lauer and Sbisa began the morning at John Wayne Airport, where they boarded a short flight down to the base. Upon arrival, the group was greeted by those in attendance at the operations building. From there, three vans departed to embark on the tour.
Along with the shooting range (only available to those over 18 years of age), those in attendance had a chance to see a K9 working dog demonstration, take target practice at the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer (included with a rocket launcher), view the inside of Air Traffic Control Tower and ride on a V-22 flight simulator.
|“The more we heard about Defending the Blue Line, the more we wanted to participate,” said Boudreau, pictured here with Hudella. “It was something to get behind. Wherever we can, we will either talk for them or do what they need – which is donate things to them. It’s a great cause. It’s something we’re truly behind.” |
“A lot of the Ducks contribute a lot of time and money to the organization, but yet they haven’t met a lot of military personnel,” said Master Sergeant Jeremy Frantz, who had his hockey-playing children also on the tour. “It’s just a way for them to get to know some of the people they give so much towards. It does mean a lot to the people here because a lot of us are hockey fans since birth. All these kids are elated.”
Not on the original itinerary was a special presentation Boudreau conducted after lunch. On behalf of he and his wife Crystal, the coach delivered a $10,000 donation check to Hudella for the Defending the Blue Line program.
The donation was a clear sign of the impact the organization has on Boudreau, who first became aware of it back when he was coaching the Washington Capitals. There he became close friends with Jay and Margaret Anne Erwin. Jay serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines, while Margaret Anne leads the DC-area chapter of Defending the Blue Line.
“The more we heard about Defending the Blue Line, the more we wanted to participate,” Boudreau said. “It was something to get behind. Wherever we can, we will either talk for them or do what they need – which is donate things to them. It’s a great cause. It’s something we’re truly behind.”
Throughout the day, Boudreau displayed his usual smile and genial attitude that has endeared him to Ducks fans since he joined the organization last November. “You gain so much more respect just looking at how the military does their things and how serious they are about everything from giving instructions to making sure you don’t take any brass down after you’ve shot,” he said. “I’ve learned a ton and gained an even greater admiration for the military in the U.S.”
|“I told (my grandpa) I was going to this military base today and he was a little jealous,” Sbisa said. “Back in the day, he was flying jets for the Italian army. It’s pretty cool to have a grandpa like that. I have a lot of respect for what these guys do on a daily basis.” |
After firing at targets on the shooting range, participants (Boudreau opted to coach instead of take aim) were given a printout of their performance and a score. The highest score went to Sbisa, whose 79 beat out Woods, Lauer and some team staff.
“He missed more shots on net than he did targets on the range with the live bullets from 200 yards,” joked Boudreau. “He was awesome. Hopefully, he has this shooting wide and high thing corrected and this year he’ll have a banner season.”
Sbisa, known more for his hard-hitting style of play than his scoring (seven career NHL goals), also laughed about it afterward. “Hopefully it will translate on the ice,” he said, “and I will start scoring more goals.”
Seemingly a natural in his first time on the range, Sbisa may get it from his bloodlines. His grandfather served in the Italian military and coincidentally is currently in town visiting the 22-year-old. If he hadn’t become a professional hockey player, Sbisa would have also been pressed into service. In his native Switzerland, it is mandatory to join the military beginning at the age of 18.
“I told (my grandpa) I was going to this military base today and he was a little jealous,” Sbisa said. “He’s in his mid-70s. Back in the day, he was flying jets for the Italian army. It’s pretty cool to have a grandpa like that. I have a lot of respect for what these guys do on a daily basis. Lots of props to these guys. I’m not American, but they are keeping this country safe.”