While they were dating in high school, Tyler and Ashley Moreland would celebrate six-month anniversaries by going Komets games. After the Komets won three titles in a row, the two decided they wanted to stop watching hockey as much and start playing.
They tried roller hockey and lost their first game after about 10 minutes because of a mercy rule.
Now, a couple of years later, like true hockey players, they are showing their resiliency and toughness by trying something bigger. This fall the 23-year-olds and their organization, Lamp Lighters Hockey Ministries, are going to start a program at four northeast Fort Wayne churches that allows anyone to play street hockey while also hearing a little bit of Christian message.
They've already convinced one person who gives them pretty good credibility as a player and as a Christian, former Komets great Guy Dupuis, who is intrigued from both angles.
``Many fans tell me they play hockey, and they are talking about street hockey,'' Dupuis said. ``Everybody knows street hockey, and we're trying to find the best way to approach the kids. Right now I'm trying to help them any way I can.''
Dupuis is willing to provide both technical and spiritual advice for the program as a member of the Lamp Lighters board of directors.
As more churches struggle to attract youthful followers, the Morelands feel they have been inspired to use hockey as a way to take Christianity to kids. They got part of the idea from Wings and Wheels in Celina, Ohio, which is run by a local church.
``That's when we really started to dream about what a hockey ministry could be,'' Ashley Moreland said. ``We started to develop our own concept and strategy of how it would look.''
Essentially, they spent two years trying to understand what it would take to start their own league, traveling to various camps and talking with anyone who would listen. They consider themselves hockey professionals and hope to bridge the gaps between ice, roller and deck hockey.
``Most people who play on ice don't really think of street hockey as legitimate,'' Tyler said. ``We're trying to learn the different styles.''
One day Tyler was joking about how funny would it be to have a hockey mobile that would be like an ice cream truck only it would stop and encourage kids to play street hockey. Ashley started coming up with ideas, including the name of the group, which comes from John 8:12, ``Then Jesus said to him again, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'' Their mission statement is to ``Develop fully mature disciples of Jesus Christ through hockey.''
The Morelands hosted summer camps the last two years at their church, St. Joseph's United Methodist, with 30 kids participating last year and 35 this year, most of whom had never played hockey before. They started a pilot program at St. Joseph's in January and drew about 15 players per week, and now host games every Sunday afternoon at the church.
They are going to host a fundraiser noon-6 p.m. Nov. 17 to see if they can raise $10,000 by launching 10,000 shots on net at Spiece Fieldhouse. Originally, Ashley and Tyler were going to take all the shots, but now they are branching out to ask for help, hoping participants will earn pledges of $1 per shot. Dupuis and Komets legend Eddie Long are going to be the official hosts for the event.
The money raised will be used to purchase equipment. After the fundraiser, the Morelands would like to start sites at five northeast churches this fall. Along with St. Joseph's, they already have held discussions with Faith Baptist Church, Holy Cross Lutheran Church and the Salvation Army on Lima Road.
They can be followed on Facebook at Lamp Lighters Hockey Ministry Inc., and their email address is Lamplightershockey@gmail.com.