The snow may have postponed this special night for our local Veterans, but the co-op varsity ice hockey team from Hopewell Valley and Montgomery High Schools were determined not to cancel the seventh annual Salute to Service game. The team played to a packed house of patriotic hockey fans on Sunday night February 6, where the stars of the night were the Veterans who were recognized and honored for the sacrifices they have made for our country.  The Bulldogs played against Bridgewater-Raritan High School at Proskate in Monmouth Junction, where there was no shortage of patriotism as red white and blue were the dominant colors in the arena and the recognition of our Veterans and Active Duty Servicemen and Women drove the spirit of the night.

PHOTOS BY: Mike Schwartz

The home bench was filled with local Veterans, and Veteran family members. While the players and fans listened to the names that were read, there was a true sense of gratitude felt around the ice. The honored Veterans for the night were American Legion Post 339 Sergeant at Arms for Mercer County, Mark Marotta who served in the US Army Corp. of Engineers, served in the National Guard and shuttled workers from NJ to ground zero during 9-11 and Dimitra Bairaktaris of Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee and American Legion Post 339, who served as a Captain in the US Army, served in the National Guard and works for the Department of Army Communications in Security Assistance Management supporting our nation’s security. Hopewell Valley Veteran Association, President Ken Baker and Sal Torre sat alongside Bulldog family members who are Veterans. It was a proud moment for junior goalie Ryan Morici as he had the opportunity to honor his grandfather and uncle; junior Liam Yeoman couldn’t have been more proud of his grandfather on the bench, while freshman Logan Camilleri experienced his first Salute to Service game with both of his grandfathers in attendance. Captains Michael Boyer and Joseph Greenspoon both honored their military grandfathers who have been on the bench in the past and recently passed away. Shout outs went to several active duty servicemen and women who are currently serving our country, including HV alumni and founder of the STS game, Michael Cowhey, US Army and his brother Jeffrey, US Marines and former CVC Ice Hockey alumni Anthony Dickinson, US Navy. They know all too well what hard work and discipline means to a team. Tonight, the boys came together as a team to make sure that the game wasn’t cancelled and made sure the Veterans felt their gratitude.

This event is far reaching and inclusive of the community. The patriotic spirit of the night was supported by our local scouts from Troop 44 with the Southall family of Pennington represented by all three of their children, Aren, an Eagle Scout, Scouts Kirsten and Neil along with Ian Williams respectfully led the color guard flag salute and an extraordinary performance of the National Anthem was sung by the talented members of HV Central High School Choral Program led by Mr. Randy White.  Principal Trish Riley and AD Tripp Becker from Hopewell Valley Central High School were both on hand to support the opening ceremonies. The first ceremonial game puck was dropped by Bairaktaris for HVM Captain #5 Joseph Greenspoon, and the Bridgewater-Raritan Captain, and the second game puck was dropped by Marotta for HVM Captain #19 Michael Boyer, following in his brother’s footsteps who was in this same position in 2017. With that it was game time!

Though the Bulldogs battled to the end, a five minute penalty in the beginning of the game gave Bridgewater the advantage. The refs waved off a much needed hard fought goal by Lucas Gaissert for HVM, a disappointing call for the team. Liam Yeoman put the Bulldogs only goal on the board in the 3rd. Ryan Morici did his best to keep the Dawgs in the game with 22 saves. Though the Bulldogs came up short, Captain Michael Boyer summed it up, “This is a game we look forward to all season. It’s a tradition that is important to the team and our town. Even though the outcome wasn’t what we wanted, it’s still a great event because of the purpose which is to thank our servicemen and women for their sacrifice for our country; and that always counts as a W for us.”

“The Hopewell Valley hockey program is proud to host this event to honor the men and women who have selflessly served this country.  We would love to keep this annual tradition going for many years to come. Win or lose it’s a game we feel is always a positive opportunity for our team and community.” Said HVM Head Coach, Jeff Radice. 

The HVM Bulldogs came up short this year, but this tradition isn’t going away and they will be back next year. Win or lose, this game is an opportunity for the HVM Ice Hockey team to give back to their communities and for the community to come out and show their appreciation for our servicemen and women. A portion of the proceeds from this event will be donated to the Hopewell Valley Veterans Association and the Montgomery Veterans Memorial Committee. The Salute to Service game was a success on many levels and the HVM Ice Hockey team extends a heartfelt thank you to the community who came out to show their support for the service men and women who sacrifice for our country.  

Submitted by Kathie Rigante

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