PLYMOUTH, Minn. (KMSP) - Just over a month since the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, some of those students are hitting the ice for a hockey tournament in the Twin Cities.
The Stoneman Douglas hockey team won a state title earlier this month, which qualified them for the 2018 USA Hockey National Championships held in Plymouth this year. It's a run that players say has been vital to their healing process, helping the community come together in the aftermath of tragedy.
"I think playing hockey and what we did today is our representation of how we are handling the situation," said Stoneman Douglas player Matthew Hauptman. "[We're just trying to] bring back positivity."
Before taking the ice for their first game, the teams held a moment of silence. The opposing team, Regis Jesuit High School from Colorado, later presented Stoneman Douglas with a banner signed by every student from their school. Regis Jesuit is based in Aurora, Colorado, where the deadly movie theater shooting occurred in 2012.
“We know how difficult it’s been for them,” said Brad Gautsche, a Regis Jesuit High School hockey parent. “Their parents, the school, the hockey team, etc. to have gone through what they did so, we thought a small little momentum by everybody signing.”
Just last month a gunman killed 17 people at the Florida high school. The attack devastated the students and their families, but they've said repeatedly that hockey is a break from the pain and memories of that horrible day.
“There’s definitely a lot of difficult times, but when they’re on the ice or at a practice or when they’re at a hockey game it really turned out to be a wonderful distraction,” said Mark Bohm, a Stoneman Douglas hockey parent. “They get to focus on something they love and I think the same thing for the parents and the siblings. Just have a half hour or an hour to focus on something else that we all really love.”
The players say Minnesotans have been welcoming since the moment they stepped off the plane, offering free food and kind words just weeks after they went through the toughest experience of their lives.
"Minnesota's been great so far," Stoneman Douglas player Joseph Zenobi said. "We've had people come up to us on the street saying, 'Thank you for being here,' and giving us a good welcome. It's just good to be welcomed here."
The two teams may be opponents on the ice, but many of the players spoke afterword about the link they shared through their love for hockey and, unfortunately, their intimate understanding of tragedy.
“Sports is a big healer in any kind of tragedy,” said Joe Muller of the Florida Panthers Scholastic Hockey League. “Brings kids together, gives them a chance or even adults a chance to go ahead and forget some of the troubles going on and their most comfortable in that element, whether it’s on the ice or on the ball field, wherever it may be.”
Stoneman Douglas lost to Regis Jesuit 7-1. Stoneman Douglas will next play Edina on Friday morning.