For Zach Parise, getting behind an organization like United Heroes League, formerly known as Defending the Blue Line, was a simple decision.
"In the grand scheme of things it's not really fair that's how it works out," Parise said. "Unfortunately, we play a sport that is pretty ridiculously expensive at a young age. You have these great people that are serving our country, and can't afford to have their kids sign up to play hockey and get them the gear, so it's not fair."
Parise was one of five local athletes on hand Thursday, along with Defending the Blue Line President and Founder Shane Hudella, to announce a name change to United Heroes League, and its mission.
United Heroes is an organization that brings sports to the children of military families through free equipment, free camps and clinics, and free tickets for families to enjoy games. Previously, Defending the Blue Line focused on hockey.
Parise was introduced to Defending the Blue Line by his father, J.P., whom Hudella said was very involved with his organization from its infancy.
"Those early years were the tougher years," Hudella said. "Nobody had heard of Defending the Blue Line yet, and as we picked up more and more athletes with the help of guys like J.P., we've grown."
J.P.'s dedication to Defending the Blue Line made it a natural fit for Zach to align with.
"I know he was a big part of it from the early stages," Parise said. "I know how passionate he was about the group, and I'm not taking over for what he's doing, but I like to continue it, and continue our family being involved with it."
It's a family tie that also attracted Tyus Jones, a point guard for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who was one of a few local athletes introduced on Thursday for being newly involved with the organization.
Jones' grandfather was a paratrooper in the army, and died when he was a senior in high school.
"He always wore his airborne paratrooper hat," Jones said. "Anybody who knows him knows he always had that hat on.
"Sports was a big part of my life growing up. The fact that I can have an affect or help a military family along the lines with sports, that's just a great cause and a great situation."
The other athletes in attendance on Thursday included Matt Hendricks of the Edmonton Oilers, former Minnesota Wild forward Mark Parrish, and former Indianapolis Colt Ben Utecht.
The Minnesota Wild and United Heroes League have had a preexisting relationship for years. Forward Charlie Coyle donated half of his $10,000 winnings from the Sauce Hockey Challenge to Defending the Blue Line.
"I've gotten to know [Defending the Blue Line founder] Shane Hudella for a few years now, and I know he's always looking for guys to help out any way they can, and be a part of it," Coyle said after announcing his donation. "I've learned about it, and what they do for those families. I kind of jumped at that to try to help any way I could, and he's been very good to me."
Matt Dumba's 'Hits For Heroes' program raised $8,900 this season.
"Defending the Blue Line provides great assistance for military families and I’m proud to support them with a program fans can get excited for and track throughout the Wild season," Dumba said when he launched the initiative in October. "While I’ve worn the number 24 throughout my career, I wanted to do something special to acknowledge the history and excitement the number holds for Wild fans."
The Wild has donated to the organization on numerous occasions over the years through selling game programs, the Wild Grant, and in-game 50-50 raffles. Parise donated $10,000 to Defending the Blue Line during the 2012-2013 lockout.
Parise told a story during the press conference of when a group of army rangers and Navy Seals visited the United States Olympic team during a summer camp prior to the 2010 Olympics.
"It was intense," Parise said. "The silence among the players was awesome when these guys were talking. It was really — not that we didn't appreciate what these guys were doing for us, but it was almost life-changing to hear what they were saying, and the way they related what they were saying, 'We approach it just the way you guys approach a hockey game,' and we were like, 'No, it's not. It's not the same.'
"There's such a respect for what they do."
Hudella also related what the men and women serving do to that of the job of an athlete.
"They wear a different helmet, too," Hudella said. "It's one that can help deflect or stop a bullet. The pads are different. Sure, they serve the same purpose of protecting the body, but ours are more designed to kick in a door or jump out of an airplane. Make no mistake though: The men and women serving our nation are world-class athletes, and the need is there for them."