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Skaters have soldiers on their minds

Every time they take the ice this winter Rosemount's hockey teams will pay tribute to a group of people they've never met.

Local teams from the tiniest Bantams to the Rosemount Irish varsity will dedicate this season to the 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls as the local National Guard soldiers wrap up a deployment in Iraq. Players will wear Red Bull stickers on their helmets, and teams have collected floor hockey gear and school supplies to send to Iraq.

Stan Ancheta, who raised the idea with the Rosemount Area Hockey Association, called the inspiration a "gee whiz moment."

Ancheta's been going to hockey events at the Rosemount Community Center for the past five years, but when he brought his kids to register for this season he went in a different door than he usually does. Rather than enter at the south end of the building, where the ice arena is, he went in a door on the west side of the building. He saw the offices of the Red Bull Division, which shares the building with the city of Rosemount, and he was inspired. The hockey players and the soldiers share a building, Ancheta thought. Why shouldn't they share a little more?

Ancheta spoke to the RAHA board, and to a high school hockey buddy who is currently serving in Iraq and the project grew from there.

"If I would have parked at the normal parking lot to go to the meeting I never would have thought of it," Ancheta said.

Ancheta had his gee whiz moment though, and because he did every hockey player in Rosemount will get at least a little lesson this winter on the service of the local soldiers.

At a recent practice for 6-year-old's team Ancheta borrowed a Red Bull flag and showed it to the players. He explained who the soldiers were and what they are doing. The display provoked some questions from the young players and Ancheta talked to them about service, and at least in broad terms about what is happening in Iraq. RAHA has asked that when coaches distribute the Red Bull helmet stickers, expected to arrive this week, they talk about the Red Bulls and their mission in Iraq.

The message the coaches deliver will vary depending on the age level of the players.

"We want the coaches to touch on who the Red Bulls are, particularly for the little ones," said RAHA board member Lynnae Weiand. "For the high school kids its a different speech. It's just really to give them a sense of appreciation for these people who are serving their country."

"We want to have it as a teachable moment for the kids, too," Ancheta said. "If we can't teach our kids, it's kind of a moot point."

The season will be about more than just recognition, though. Ancheta got in touch with his old hockey buddy to ask what soldiers in Iraq could use, and his friend suggested hockey gear. So, RAHA bought floor hockey equipment to ship overseas for any soldiers who want to put together a pick-up game. They're also sending some Rosemount Irish jerseys.

RAHA has also collected school equipment for students in Iraq.

Weiand said the partnership with the Red Bulls is a natural fit for the hockey teams.

"We walk by their offices and their big emblem on the floor all the time. We see them when they're there for the weekend. We've had some very distant contact but never connected very much," Weiand said. "It's just really about the families or the individuals who are doing something for us and for the kids to know that people are doing these things for them."