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David Hartle figured he would get 10 or 20 kids tops when he started doing street hockey pop-ups in Columbus, Georgia.

"We thought we'd get just enough to be able to play some hockey and do our thing," Hartle said. "And when we got there at our first event, 10-15 minutes before it started, we were already hitting 35-40 people. It really blew us away."

More than a year later, Columbus Street Hockey is going strong, attracting boys and girls and exposing them to a sport that they might otherwise never to a chance to play.

It's why Hartle is the winner of the 2024 NHL Stick Tap for Service, presented by Navy Federal Credit Union.

The Stick Tap for Service program recognizes the outstanding community service of hockey fans and military members. Hartle is an Army Staff Sgt. stationed at Fort Moore in Georgia. An infantryman, he has done tours in Afghanistan, Bulgaria and South Korea.

Hartle wins a trip for two to a 2024 Stanley Cup Final game and a $30,000 donation in his honor to Columbus Street Hockey.

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"It's surreal," said Hartle, a father of four girls and two boys. "I don't think it's fully sunk in, to be honest."

Hartle grew up in Woodstock, Georgia, and was initially drawn to hockey by the Atlanta Thrashers. He stopped watching the sport when the franchise relocated and became the Winnipeg Jets in 2011.

He renewed his love for the sport and became a die-hard Vegas Golden Knights fan while he was stationed in South Korea in 2018.

"They would play on the Armed Forces Network over there," Hartle said. "It happened to be their inaugural season and their games were on almost every day. I was, like, 'I really do enjoy watching hockey.'"

Hartle, who is treasurer and an assistant captain of the Chattahoochee Warriors program, wanted to share that love of hockey in Columbus but realized that the cost of the sport is prohibitive for most families.

"We founded it in April 2023, a bunch of hockey guys, friends, together that were prior service," he said. "Our main goals was just to get a sport out there for kids to play. Around here in Columbus the main sports are football and baseball, and we're a bunch of hockey guys. 

"We have a local rink that has some hockey, but the biggest issue with hockey was the cost to playing hockey, so we wanted to start something that had a very low entry cost," he said. "We provide the sticks and balls and everything else. You just have to show up in your tennis shoes, ready to play some hockey."

Hartle and his friends received donations from the nearby LaGrange, Georgia, street hockey program, the local rink's youth hockey director and the owner/operator of a local pro shop.

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The Columbus River Dragons of the Federal Professional Ice Hockey League also chimed in with players and coaches showing up to provide instruction.

"All of the local kids love it when they're out there because, for us, the River Dragons are big celebrities around here," he said.

The program has grown from pop-ups around town to sessions on the tennis courts of Columbus' Frank Chester Recreation Center.

Hartle envisions Columbus Street Hockey growing beyond the tennis courts.

"Short term/long term we're attempting to get a street hockey facility built here in the same area where we do our seasons," he said. "We would love to be able to facilitate adult leagues and everything like that. We would love to continue to grow and keep this around the city of Columbus for the foreseeable future."