Keeping military families in the game

Eventually, it's going to be framed. Maybe have a place on a wall. For now, the body armor that saved Wade Scott's life is stored at home, with the damage from bullets a reminder of a rescue mission against the Taliban in Afghanistan that altered his life. It nearly ended it.

One bullet went through his hand and ripped out his wrist. Another bullet went right through his arm.

"It didn't do much of anything," he said. "Four [bullets] on my side filleted me a bit. The ones that hit my vest, I didn't even notice. They did such a good job. I'm a big fan of body armor."

In all, he was shot between seven and nine times on a hostage rescue mission that also included suicide bombers.

"I don't recommend it," he said.

They say hockey players are tough. This is another world altogether. Recovery from the mission meant a trip home and surgeries to find nerves elsewhere in his body to replace those completely destroyed. It was during this recovery time that he got to know Defending the Blue Line.

Hockey, as you might have heard, is expensive. It's all-consuming. If you've got one kid playing, it can become the focus of the family with pricey gear, hotels for tournaments and ice time rental at all hours of the day. If you're in a hockey family, you can relate. If you're not, you can imagine.

It can be even harder for military families, with one family member gone for long stretches of time and leaving the hockey responsibilities to those back home. Scott has two boys who play hockey, a couple of California goalies. He'd play, too, but military dads hardly have the time.

"And goalie dads are broke," he said.

It makes the contributions he got from Defending the Blue Line all the more meaningful and necessary. In the midst of his recovery, they stepped forward with grants so the boys could keep playing hockey.

"When you're feeling normal as I am now, it's demanding as it is," he said. "When you're dealing with injuries and medicated and stressed out, having someone walk in and say, 'Hey, I'm here to help ...'"

Defending the Blue Line has been doing that for five years. Maybe you've heard of the organization or heard them mentioned on one of the recent military nights at NHL games. If you haven't, just know the impact this group is having right now through hockey is incredible.

For the first time since the idea was dreamed up, in 2013, Defending The Blue Line broke the $1 million barrier in benefits provided to hockey families in the military. This year, they're on track to give nearly $1.75 million in benefits.

Those benefits come in many forms. It might be a night out for a soldier and his family in a suite at an NHL game. It might be a grant that helps pick up the cost of playing or send the son of a solider to a hockey camp. The bulk of it is in equipment. Last year, the group gave out 556 sets of equipment to outfit hockey players from head to toe.

The numbers are staggering to the guy who started it all with the mission of helping the children of military members keep playing hockey.

"I had no idea," said Shane Hudella, the president and founder.

It all began when Hudella, whose 23 years of military leadership include deployment in Operation Desert Storm, met with the Minnesota Wild about a potential partnership with the National Guard.

Somewhere along the way, he crossed paths with former Wild defenseman Brent Burns, a military junkie. If Burns weren't playing for the San Jose Sharks right now, he would have enlisted. His grandfather served in World War II. Growing up in school, he was the kid doing every single book report on war novels.

His wife, Susan, is from Texas, and they always had it in their hearts to help those who have dedicated their lives to the military. Hudella fondly remembers meeting Burns.

"He was hurt at the time. I was downstairs in uniform, and that knucklehead came walking down the concourse," Hudella said with a laugh. "He was like a kid in a candy store, 'Oh, my God, soldiers!' We ended up talking to him quite some time."

And the seed for an idea was planted.

"I was talking about wanting to start something with the military. He was wanting to start a charity reaching out to hockey guys," Burns told ESPN The Magazine. "It was kind of a perfect thing."

It started with a few partnerships and got a boost with the support of the NHLPA's Goals and Dreams fund, and then, next thing you know, Hudella was on Air Force Two, en route to the Middle East to meet soldiers along with the Edmonton Oilers' Matt Hendricks during the lockout.

Earlier this month, both Burns and Hudella were awarded the California Commendation Medal for their passionate support of military members and their families. Their dream took off fast and is still growing rapidly.

Hudella lists the NHL players who have given to the program to help soldiers: Burns, Zach Parise, George Parros, Matt Martin, Patrice Bergeron, Paul Martin, Alex Goligoski, Eric Boulton, Clayton Stoner, Chris Butler. The list keeps going and going.

Shayna Richards once noticed a tweet from Burns that mentioned Defending The Blue Line. She went to the charity's website and sent an email. Her son, Riley, was into hockey. In 2008, Riley's dad, Timothy Smith, was killed by a roadside bomb. Riley was 22 months old.

One Sunday morning, a family appeared at the rink where Riley was playing. They came with a black hockey bag filled with gear, a new stick and the kind of support that means the world.

"It was amazing," Richards said of her first interaction with Defending The Blue Line.

Riley is now 8 years old and the leading scorer on his hockey team, and the support continues. There's a grant to help with costs and equipment whenever Riley needs it.

The past Christmas, he got thousands of hockey cards from Upper Deck and an autographed helmet. Richards knows one email to Hudella gets almost immediate results whenever her family needs anything hockey-related. It's helped keep Riley in the game, and she knows there are others like her family in the hockey and military world.

"Even though we're in California, there are families here who want to play hockey and can't afford it," Richards said. "With a great salary, it's hard, let alone a military salary -- you can't afford it.

"If they could see how much an impact they have, maybe more NHL teams would get involved."