Rivals for a Cause: ‘Battle of the Badges’ Hockey Event Benefits CHaD

  • Hartford firefighter Christian Henault, Lillian Kelley, 2, and Hartford Police Sgt. Connie Kelley, pose for a photograph at the station in White River Junction, Vt., on March 20, 2018. Henault recruited Kelley's daughter, Lillian, for the annual CHaD Battle of the Badges game after learning she was born prematurely at 29 weeks. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lillian Kelley, 2, walks away from her mother Connie Kelley, as Christian Henault takes her hand to go show her a fire truck at the station in White River Junction, Vt., on March 20, 2018. Kelley has worked for the Hartford Police for 20 years and Henault has been with Hartford Fire for four years. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Carly Geraci

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/21/2018 11:44:08 PM
Modified: 3/21/2018 11:44:08 PM

What: Battle of the Badges (policemen vs. firemen) Hockey Championship to benefit Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth

When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: SNHU Arena, Manchester

Admission: $10 (children 5 and under free).

More Info or to Donate: www.chadhockey.org

White River Junction — Working under the same roof at the Hartford Public Safety building, firefighter Christian Henault and police sergeant Connie Kelley often work together and respond to the same calls. Henault also has a meaningful partnership with Kelley’s daughter, Lillian.

Lillian Kelley, 2, was born at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center at just 29 weeks, weighing 2 pounds, 4.7 ounces. Her stay at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth lasted nearly two months.

Now a healthy toddler, Lillian has been matched with Henault as buddies for the Battle of the Badges Hockey Championship, an annual showdown at Manchester’s SNHU Arena pitting players from New England fire departments against policemen counterparts to benefit CHaD.

Over its first 10 years, the game has raised nearly $2 million for numerous CHaD programs and, this year alone, had brought in more than $208,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. Puck drop for the 11th edition is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 per ticket (children 5 and under are admitted free).

“I joke that I can switch teams and support Team Fire one day a year,” said Connie Kelley, 44, of East Corinth. “It’s not difficult to cheer for Team Fire because I know Christian well and work with him.”

More difficult were the circumstances surrounding Lillian’s birth. Connie Kelley’s father, Earl Gagnon, had been diagnosed with cancer the previous June and died on Nov. 29, 2015. Kelley believes the stress surrounding her father’s death may have contributed to Lillian’s premature arrival, which came via emergency C-section on Dec. 11, 2015.

After Lillian was born, it was three days before Connie or Stephen Kelley, Lillian’s father, was permitted to hold her. Lillian’s oxygen levels and heart rate, meanwhile, were closely monitored.

“We went through a lot of (tissues),” Connie Kelley said. “My husband and I had been taking care of my dad and were still grieving. (Lillian) was so small, I was afraid I was going to hurt her.”

Today, Lillian is as elusive as her toddler peers, scampering around the Hartford Public Safety building to check out all of the fire trucks during a recent interview with Connie Kelley and Henault. (Henault’s fiance, Hannah Estes, helped keep tabs on her.)

Now in his fourth year overall as a Team Fire player, Henault is united with Lillian as Battle of the Badges buddies for the second straight year. They’ve hung out on numerous occasions — made easier by Lillian’s working relationship with Henault — and she’ll join him on the ice for festivities after the game.

“I’ve learned a lot from Lillian,” said Henault, 28. “Just seeing the way she’s progressed from last year to this year is inspiring. She’s a battler.”

Steve Kelley, a Lebanon native, is a longtime hockey fan who’s been to SNHU Arena (formerly Verizon Wireless Arena) as a fan to watch the ECHL’s Manchester Monarchs. It’s a thrill to have his daughter associated with Battle of the Badges, which over the last several years has drawn about 7,000 spectators per game.

“The whole process is really impressive, and very powerful,” Steve Kelley said. “There’s a smile on everyone’s face. A lot of high-fives, a lot of hugs. It’s an amazing time.”

Connie Kelley looks forward to reconnecting with other families who experienced premature birth and treatment at CHaD.

“It’s awesome to see people you know from the hospital and all kinds of people connected to CHaD,” the mom said. “It’s a lifetime connection because, in one way or another, your experiences are similar.”

Proceeds from the game benefit various CHaD programs, including its Child Life Program, which provides access to toys, games and movies. Injury prevention initiatives and Molly’s Place — an area at CHaD with a book library and other family resources, as well as a play area — also benefit from Battle of the Badges.

“It helps provide a lot of things that allow kids to feel more comfortable (at CHaD),” Henault said. “Things that make everything a little less scary, so it’s not all bright lights.”

Henault, a former St. Johnsbury Academy and junior league player, will be teammates with firemen from departments from throughout eastern Vermont, New Hampshire and northern Massachusetts, including several additional Upper Valley departments such as Windsor, Claremont and Lebanon. They’ll try to get Team Fire on track after losing to Team Police by a combined 21-6 over the last two years. Team Police leads the overall series, 6-3. (The 2013 edition featured an East vs. West format, won by the West).

“I would expect a much closer game this year,” said Henault, who’s been attending practices at the arena. “Both teams have new skaters, and we have a really solid group.”

To donate to the Henault/Kelley team, visit www.chadhockey.org, click on “Make a Donation” on the left-hand side of the homepage and search for Christian Henault by name. Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.

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