Stars gather to defend blue line

More than 30 current NHL players, hockey prospects and U.S. military members helped raise $50,000 to fund youth hockey costs for military families.

Former Gophers forward Nick Bjugstad and New York Islanders left wing Eric Boulton play during the Defending the Blue Line charity game on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, at Ridder Arena.

Jaak Jensen

Former Gophers forward Nick Bjugstad and New York Islanders left wing Eric Boulton play during the Defending the Blue Line charity game on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, at Ridder Arena.

Dane Mizutani

A warm summer afternoon felt a lot like the middle of winter as fans piled into Ridder Arena last week.

The stands were packed as 31 current and former NHL players, hockey prospects and U.S. military members gathered for a charity game to help support Defending the Blue Line.

DTBL is a nonprofit organization that helps children from military families with the costs associated with hockey. It provides families with free hockey gear, hosts hockey camps, plans special events and offers financial aid for registration fees and other costs associated with the sport.

The organization raised close to $50,000 at the Ridder Arena event, according to DTBL president and founder Shane Hudella.

DTBL has grown since its first year in 2009 and hosts the charity hockey game each year.

“We want to make sure every child that wants to play has an opportunity to play,” said DTBL spokeswoman Reide Housley. “It’s all about keeping hockey alive.”

Notable names on the ice included Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo and former Gophers players Nick Bjugstad and Nate Schmidt.

“It’s awesome everything the troops do for us, so it’s very easy for me to donate some time to help out,” said Schmidt, who signed with the Washington Capitals earlier this year.

Schmidt said the game was less about winning and more about putting on a show for the fans. Still, he said both sides revved up the action in crunch time because no one wanted to lose.

Team USA beat Team Canada 10-8 after a back-and-forth game.

Nine players scored goals. New York Islanders veteran Eric Boulton stole the show with five for Team Canada. Okposo scored three to pace Team USA, and Bjugstad lit the lamp twice.

Okposo said he didn’t realize he’d scored a hat trick until he was asked about it after the game.

Housley spoke highly of the players, who she said are the reason DTBL has grown so fast since 2009. She said the charity event gets bigger each year, and she doesn’t see it slowing down any time soon.

Harding was the slowest skater on the ice, but he joked about it after the game and said it added another layer to the charity contest.

“I feel like any time people can be a part of this as a professional athlete, they need to,” Harding said. “It’s such a little thing for us to do, but it means a lot.”