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"Defending the Blue Line" descends on Tampa Bay

Defending the Blue Line is a nationwide non-profit organization that helps children of the military participate in hockey. Last month, Marine Corps Captain Matthew Lunn coordinated with others in the organization to host their first event in the Tampa Bay area: an open skate for military families held at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum in April.

Before his deployment in April, Marine Corps Captain Matthew Lunn, arrived at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum with his wife and two young sons to donate his spare time to the causes he cares about the most: the military and the development of hockey.

Although his deployment to Afghanistan was merely a week away, Lunn felt like it was important that he continue his other duty as Tampa Bay's regional coordinator for the national non-profit organization, Defending the Blue Line (DTBL).

Lunn, along with others in the organization, planned Defending the Blue Line's first event in the Tampa Bay area: a free open skate at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum last month.

Defending the Blue Line was created in 2009 by organization president and Army Sergeant, Shane Hudella. Hudella, a hockey fan, teamed up with other soldiers in Minnesota well as NHL players to brainstorm the concept behind Defending the Blue Line. Through charitable donations, the organization provides free equipment as well as training to children of military families interested in playing hockey.

Lunn, a Minnesota native, found out about Defending the Blue Line when he went back to Minnesota on a leave. He has two sons of his own and related with the group.

"While I was home, I was able to come to a DTBL event, a charity event put on by some NHL players in Minnesota," Lunn said. "Then, four of five months ago I saw that the organization was looking for volunteers. Since living here in Tampa Bay, I realized it would be a good fit for me to volunteer with Defending The Blue Line while helping the growth of hockey here in Florida."

According to Lunn, it wasn't easy to plan the first organizational event. He had been planning it since December.

"It is kind of like building an airplane in flight. First, we were trying to get the word out to organizations in the community seeing if they wanted to help. Then we tried to make sure families in this community knew about the organization and what we have to offer."

"I knew hockey wasn't the first sport kids down here wanted to play but the following here in Tampa and nearby cities is huge," Lunn said.

Brent Burns and the late Derek Boogaard were two of the first NHL players to support the organization, getting involved while playing in Minnesota for the Wild. DTBL now has a roster of 25 current NHL players listed as supporters and a wide variety of former players as well.

All parties know full well how expensive hockey can be and they knew how some families of enlisted service members could be prevented from playing because of' situation created by deployment, such as financial issues or time constraints. Deployed service members can be gone anywhere from a few months to a few years; life is anything but easy for them or their families during those times, especially their children.

The works of Defending the Blue Line, with volunteers in Minnesota, Florida, New York, California, Washington D.C., and Ohio, have had a positive influence on younger hockey players, having sent over 700 kids to hockey camps around the country. They have also provided military families across the country with NHL game tickets.

Although Lunn is now deployed to Afghanistan, he said at the open skate that he plans on coordinating with other members to possibly set up another event in the area in the near future.

"The Brandon Ice Sports Forum was kind enough to donate the ice time and the skate rentals and hopefully we can get the word out about Defending the Blue Line so more families can take advantage of the programs," Lunn said. " We also hope that the Tampa Bay Lightning can help us spread the word."