HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville Havoc hockey players are known to drop the gloves from time to time and fight on the ice. But on Melissa George night, they're all fighting for a different reason.
Stuart Stefan wears number 7 for the Havoc. He's been with the team for six seasons now and has proudly worn a special pink and blue jersey for five years on Melissa’s night. It's one of his favorite games of the season. He smiled and said, “Yeah, I think it is.” And here’s why. The Havoc organization is helping raise money for the Melissa George Neonatal Memorial Fund. The fund was established by Melissa’s parents, Chris and Amy George, after she died shortly after birth. Melissa’s twin, Ann Catherine, survived.
Money from the fund is used to buy lifesaving equipment for the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children. In the past 10 years, the stick and jersey auctions have raised close to half a million dollars for Melissa’s fund.
It’s become a tradition for the players to visit the unit before the game each year. Stuart remembers the first time he walked through those NICU doors. "I’ve never really seen anything like that before and to just see all that and understand what you’re actually playing for, I think, helps out the guys on that night," he recalls.
On that one night, they’re all perhaps trying to skate a little harder and trying to score more than goals for sick babies. “You go up there and you see all the families and the babies,” Stuart said. “And then all of the equipment up there.” It hits these tough hockey players hard. But this year will be even more special for number 7. Stuart has started visiting the NICU on his own time when the schedule allows and he usually takes one of the newer players with him. “We just go up there and talk to the families,” he said. “If the babies are doing alright, we look in on them.” They often leave tickets for the families hoping that they can come to the VBC Propst Arena and enjoy a game.
When Stuart steps on the ice in a couple of weeks wearing that Melissa George jersey, he’ll be thinking about those tiny little miracles about a mile away from the rink. “Every single one up there is honestly in the fight for their life,” Stuart said. And he’ll be looking forward to his next visit with them and their families. He added, “I like to go up there and hopefully just make at least one person happy that day.” That could be a daily goal for each of us.
The Huntsville Havoc’s 11th annual Melissa George Night is coming up in two weeks. Mark your calendar for Saturday, February 11th. The game-worn jerseys will be auctioned off after the game.