When Zach Parise was in Chicago gearing up for the 2010 Olympics with Team USA, he and the team had a visit from some very special guests.
A group of Army Rangers met with the players. For Parise, who was about to wear the Red, White and Blue representing the United States, it was a reminder of the sacrifices that true heroes make for their country.
“They were around us all week, we had one night where they were telling us their experiences,” Parise remembered. “Those are the hardcore guys that you send in undetected. Some of the stuff they were telling us you were so intrigued by it, the stories they tell you, it’s incredible. Not that you don't already appreciate what they already do, but, oh my gosh, you could never do this.”
In Vancouver, Parise helped lead the United States to a Silver Medal, scoring eight points (4-4=8) in six games.
After the experience, the forward wanted to give back to the people who serve and protect our nation’s freedoms, only he wasn’t sure how. Then his father, former NHLer J.P. Parise, told him about a charitable organization that he was involved with: Defending the Blue Line (DTBL). J.P. is on the Board of Directors for DTBL.
“I want to say it was two or three summers ago, I was out in New Jersey and somehow my dad got involved,” Parise said. “He was telling me about it. (DTBL) was two things I really care about; it was pretty intriguing for me.”
The organization’s mission: “Ensuring that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in the game of hockey.”
In 2009, Shane Hudella woke up with the idea while on active duty with the Minnesota Army National Guard. He founded Defending The Blue Line, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, to help military families with the high costs of hockey and help ensure that children of military members are afforded every opportunity to participate in the sport. DTBL does so by providing free hockey equipment, access to summer hockey camps at no cost, and grants to help with local association fees for military families.
Hudella met Parise while he was a member of the New Jersey Devils, and the team was playing in Minnesota. From the initial meeting, Parise wanted to help out with the organization.
“He visited Camp Ripley in the summer with a surprise visit to National Guard soldiers,” Hudella said. “It was great for the soldiers and a real boost to those guys to meet him.”
Parise has also participated in DTBL charity games during his time off from the rigors of the NHL season.
“Not only did he play in the game, but he was instrumental in bringing other NHLers to the game,” Hudella said.
Parise’s involvement in the charity has led to partnerships off the ice as well. This season DTBL partnered with Gander Mountain for the "Puck for a Buck" campaign, which sold hockey pucks at the retail and online outfits. Wild players Parise, Cal Clutterbuck, Clayton Stoner, and former Minnesota forward Matt Kassian, took part in the fundraising effort.
“Those relationships have turned into revenue for our organization,” Hudella said.
The Wild has partnered with DTBL to annually wear camouflage jerseys and then auction them off. Minnesota wore the warmup camo sweaters before its game on April 23 against the Los Angeles Kings.
“Things like the camo jersey auction will go toward paying association fees that might be out of reach for some of these families,” Hudella said. “The goal is to take one of the stresses for military families by getting their kids onto the ice.
“For a lot of these families, hockey is out of reach. We help bridge the cost barriers.”
Parise helped to further bridge cost barriers, before the game, by donating $10,000 to the organization. After the game, a 2-1 win in which Parise added an assist, he joked that he might try and bid on Mikko Koivu’s camo jersey.
“You want to be able to give them the ability to buy equipment for someone or hockey fees for someone,” Parise said. “Every little bit helps them.”