RALEIGH, N.C. -- At the end of a bright, red carpet, a military working dog and a young military policeman drew the attention of hushed fans and veterans to center ice. The canine dropped the ceremonial puck and the crowd roared, while two opposing team captains faced-off at center ice.
The military policeman from Fort Bragg's 16th Military Police Brigade shook hands with the captains before coming to the position of attention for the national anthem. And so began the National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes' 16th annual Military Appreciation Day game at PNC Arena, in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jan. 13, 2019.
The event honored service members and offered the community a chance to engage with the military and local military organizations.
"It's hard to put into words just how much we appreciate our military and the partnership they have with our communities and our team," said Rod Brind'Amour, the Hurricanes head coach.
Before the puck drop, Soldiers greeted game-goers as they arrived, showing off Army capabilities via displays and equipment.
Fort Bragg Soldiers helped to give hockey fans an Army experience by explaining and demonstrating some of their gear. Displays included parachute rigging, tourniquet usage, strapping on body armor, and the U.S. Army Special Operations' Parachute Demonstration Team allowed fans to take a virtual reality jump.
"What we really wanted to do today and every time we have this event, is try to give our fans real faces to the heroes that protect us every day," Brind'Amour said. "That's what today's game represents."
The XVIII Airborne Corps unit patch adorned the team's helmets and the team wore camouflaged practice jerseys before the game. Photographs with brief biographies of deployed Soldiers lined the Hurricanes' locker room in addition to military involvement throughout the game.
Sgt. Helen, a military working dog, dropped the ceremonial puck to start the afternoon's match.
The 82nd Airborne Division's All-American Chorus performed the national anthem and other patriotic numbers throughout the televised event.
The 449th Combat Aviation Brigade, North Carolina Army National Guard, was recognized by the Hurricanes, as they recently returned from a deployment to the Middle East.
"Today was much more about the Soldiers than it was about us," said Jacob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes defenseman. "From the people who were carrying our country's flag, to the Soldiers singing the national anthem, having this representation here was great, not only for our team but for everyone. All of the fans who came to this game were able to see what the people serving our country do."
"It's an honor as a Soldier to be able to represent and display what we do for the community," said Spc. Devin Pruett, a Cleveland, Tennessee native and a military working dog handler with the 503rd Military Police Battalion, 16th MP Brigade. "From the veterans, to the public, this was our chance to show our military professionalism."
Pruett, who dropped the ceremonial puck along with military working dog, Sgt. Helen, said he believes more events like this would help bridge the gap between the U.S. military and the American people.
"What we did today really helped create a stronger bond between everyone in uniform and the people who support them," Pruett said. "Everyone came together very well, and we all left with a positive experience."