By Carmen L. Gleason/AFPSFebruary 21, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2007 - The Washington Capitals hockey team honored servicemembers in the national capital region last night during a "Salute to the Military Night" at the Verizon Center.
The National Hockey League's Capitals, along with 10 corporate sponsors, donated more than 6,000 tickets to troops and their families for the team's match-up against the Los Angeles Kings, which the Caps won 4-3 in overtime play.
This is the fifth time the club has hosted an event highlighting the men and women of the armed forces. With a 4-1 record on military nights, Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis said the team consistently plays well in front of their armed forces audiences.
"We're thinking of making it 'Military Season,'" he said with a laugh. "I'd like to do away with 'Military Night' and make every day a day we thank the military men and women who are keeping us safe."
At the start of the game he came onto the large screens at the center of the arena to express his thanks to the military-heavy audience. "We can't thank you and your family enough for what you do for our country and to keep us safe," Leonsis said as the audience broke out with cheering and applause.
The Capitals have further demonstrated their encouragement of the military by partnering with the America Supports You program. The team joined the Defense Department program in January 2006 as a way to vocalize its support to troops.
Last night the hockey club collected gift items at each entrance for "Comfort for America's Uniformed Services." CAUSE, an America Supports You team member, will distribute the hundreds of movies, video games and gift cards to recuperating troops in area military hospitals.
According to Debbie Wenner, CAUSE president, this is the second year the Capitals have named her organization as a beneficiary of the Salute to the Military Night. The outpouring of donations from fans will greatly benefit the troops she supports.
The dozens of bags her volunteers loaded with gifts will go directly to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here and the National Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md.
Walter Reed patient Army Staff Sgt. Pamela Schmecht said she was "totally psyched" to attend the evening's event. The Texas National Guard member was injured in Iraq in November; this was her first time out of the hospital since coming back to the states.
Schmecht, who is originally from Dale City, Va., has been a long-time Capitals fan and said she was touched that the team cares so much about the military.
"I'm having a great time," she said, "but I have mixed feelings, because it's hard to be here having fun when my unit is still in Iraq."
Even though they are on the other side of the world, servicemembers in Iraq had a chance to participate in the game. Prerecorded words of encouragement from deployed fans were played on the arena screens while the audience applauded.
"I want to shout it out to the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin - go 08!" said Lt. Col. Kier-Kevin Curry on the "JumboTron."
Curry, who is stationed at Camp Victory, in Baghdad, has closely followed the Caps this season despite his deployment. During his mid-tour leave, he made it out to a home game to cheer on his favorite team.
His "shout out" was one of several videos and public service announcements honoring the military that played through the night. Each one resulted in cheers and applause throughout the arena.
In a pre-game reception, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani said shows of support like this are important to the men and women who daily put their lives on the line.
He expressed his appreciation not only to the Capitals, but to the celebrities and professional athletes who visit troops overseas.
"It's this kind of things on a day-to-day basis that makes a difference to servicemembers," he said.