COLUMBUS, Ga. Over the past several months, a group of soldiers has been rendezvousing at the Columbus Ice Rink for a friendly game of hockey. It costs $180 an hour to rent the facility, but thanks to a non-profit group called Hockey Saves the rental fee is covered. All the soldiers have to do is show up and suit up.
Kevin Higgins is a sergeant stationed at Fort Benning, originally from Massachusetts. He's been playing hockey since he was a small kid. Just before taking the ice for a recent game with his soldier buddies, Higgins told News 3's Phil Scoggins, "You go out there, have some fun, get away from Army life and let your hair down."
Hayden Fontaine is a specialist with the U.S. Army Reserves. He says these soldier games "have personally meant a lot to me. It's a great opportunity providing ice time for us to get together as soldiers and bond through something other than work."
Staff Sergeant Kathleen Hedges is also a regular at these games. She says, "I am a baby of a hockey family. I think I probably started skating around the same time I started walking." She is also from Massachusetts. Hedges is thankful for this unique opportunity to hit the ice. "It let's a level of comradery happen among the soldiers which is awesome. All rank aside, we get to just be people, hockey players. No worries. It's just about playing the game."
The Hockey Saves program got started innocently enough. Jacqueline Andrews, who lives in New York, came to Columbus a couple of months ago to visit relatives. She and some other New Yorkers came up with the idea of renting the ice rink for some local hockey-playing soldiers just as a way to say "thank you." Andrews says some friends back in New York wanted to get involved as well. Some of them had also served our country in the military. Andrews says that initial "thank you" has now turned into many thank you's. Consequently, the soldiers have been able to play at least a dozen times.
The Hockey Saves program has attracted the attention of the National Hockey League. They have written an article about the program on their NHL website. Andrews says the organization Defending the Blue Line has donated some uniforms to the soldiers. Supporters from Notre Dame have donated rolls and rolls of tape for the players to use.
Hockey Saves has not only provided free ice time for hockey but has also arranged for the soldiers to attend some Columbus Cottonmouths home games as well as some professional hockey games in Gwinnett County.
Anyone wishing to get involved with the program can visit the Hockey Saves website at www.hockeysaves.us.
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