When you think about it, hockey players and police officers have a great deal in common: They are tough physically and mentally, while also boasting big hearts.
That is certainly true of the organizers and participants of the Cops for K.O.P.S. Charity Hockey Game in Hershey, Pa. The eight-year event has raised about $140,000, according to its founder and spokesman Pat O’Rourke. The money has gone to help several dozen families of officers killed in the line of duty.
“We started it on a whim, and it’s become an awesome way to give the kids and families a break from the grief they are suffering,” O’Rourke said, noting that K.O.P.S. stands for Keep Our Pipes Silent. “It’s a different kind of family we have for them; we believe they should be taken care of going forward.”
The silent pipes reference alludes to the beautiful, though haunting, playing of bagpipes at the services of fallen officers. There is also a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” with the instrument played prior to the K.O.P.S. game for the fallen officers of that year.
This year the group honored three Pennsylvania men who died in the line of duty: Patrolman Edward Wehe of the Delaware County Park Police, Sgt. John LaRose of the Pa. State Police and Patrolman Jerry McCarthy of the Shenango Township Police Department.
The game touches and affects more than just the lives of the families of fallen officers, who are showered with hockey shirts, pucks and sticks donated by area minor league and professional franchises before the game. The participants of the latest contest, which took place Dec. 14 at Giant Center, included federal marshals, postal inspectors and probation officers.
Former American Hockey League and National Hockey League players also take part, including Mitch Lamoureux. The former Hershey Bears star, who went on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, skated on the same line as his son, Corey, an attorney.
“The reception the game has been given has been great, and it’s a tremendous cause,” said Lamoureux, the director of business development for a credit union. “It’s a humbling experience, and law enforcement is close to my heart because my brother Mike Baughman is the Chief Deputy United States Marshal for Western Pennsylvania.”
Along with strong players such as Lamoureux, the game also boasts top officials in Paul Devorski from the NHL as well as Dan Clemente, Jeff Jones and Tom “Punky” O’Connell from USA Hockey and minor leagues. Along with presenting roses to the widows of fallen officers in a touching pre-game ceremony, Santa Claus makes a visit to their children, and Mite hockey players take to the ice in-between periods as well to show off their skills.
Another of the game’s coordinators, Gary Baylor, said everyone involved with the event has become part of an extended family. And it’s growing as well, with officers coming from different states, including nearby New York, to participate.
Baylor credits the Internet for raising awareness of the cause, as the event boasts an impressive Facebook page and Twitter has propelled it as well along with local television stations such as ABC27 in nearby Harrisburg.
“The explosion of social media has ramped up donations, even from other cities like Chicago,” Baylor said.
“Guys have fun playing the game itself, but they know what we’re here for,” Baylor said. “We’re not into this for the fame or glory, we do it for the families and the love of the game.”
Donations can be mailed to Cops for K.O.P.S. c/o the Derry Township Police Department, 620 Clearwater Road, Hershey, Pa. 17033.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”