During a recent Washington Capitals practice 70 pairs of alert eyes peered down at the team from a balcony above the rink.
As the lineup concluded their morning exercises, their audience began trading their shoes for skates and situating themselves in sleds for an afternoon of Extreme Recess
with Capitals players Jay Beagle
, Jason Chimera
and John Erskine
The occasion kicked off the Capitals recognition of Hockey is for Everyone month, a league-wide initiative that commemorates hockey’s growth and diversity. Throughout February the Capitals honored the campaign, exposing children to the sport through unique experiences.
Presented by the Washington Capitals and charity Dreams for Kids, the Feb. 2 clinic provided children with special needs the opportunity to skate and play hockey in an environment tailored to their physical and cognitive abilities.
Throughout the event Beagle, Chimera and Erskine interacted with the children, coaxing some out onto the ice for the first time while assisting others by developing their puck handling skills.
For children including Germantown, Md., native Spencer Edwards, Extreme Recess was a unique opportunity to explore a passion for hockey. Sensitive to audio, music played at most rinks makes it difficult for Edwards to practice. Through Hockey is for Everyone, the youth was able to develop his play with the help of his favorite NHL team – the Washington Capitals.
For the players the children’s reactions to the experience were just as significant.
“To see the smiles on their faces and how excited they were made it a blessing to be out there,” said Beagle. “I hope the kids had a blast learning something new and will remember the experience for the rest of their lives.”
The Capitals continued promoting hockey’s growth two weeks later as players Roman Hamrlik
and Joel Ward
responded to a rapid line of questioning on their craft.
The duo wasn’t in a post-game media scrum at Verizon Center, but in the gymnasium of Thurgood Marshall Elementary School to verse nearly 60 students on hockey through Caps Hockey School
Launched in 2007 the program exposes youth to hockey through training from a Capitals assistant coach and players. The Feb. 15 Thurgood Marshall visit featured drills led by assistant coach Dean Evason and a scrimmage involving Hamrlik and Ward.
Following the assembly Ward leaned over a railing above the schools common area as students shared what they learned.
For many of them, it was their first time playing the sport.
“I learned that hockey is fun,” one child chimed from a crowd of students below.
For other students, the afternoon offered a glimpse at an aspired career. One child approached Ward and shared his desire to be a hockey player, prompting Ward to offer the potential NHLer guidance:
“Stick to it and work hard,” Ward advised. “You’ve got to make good choices. It’s a lot of work, so if you’re willing to put the work in, you can do anything you want to do.”
That message was further relayed to several children who attended the Capitals Feb. 28 celebration of Hockey is for Everyone Night.
Seated in the Green’s Gang and Ovi’s Crazy 8 sections, members from the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club witnessed the Capitals overtime victory against the New York Islanders.
Thurgood Marshall students and youth from the Fort Dupont Kids on Ice program were also at the game. Many of the children were attending their first NHL game courtesy of the team’s Tickets for Kids program, which allows individuals to purchase tickets for children who likely would not otherwise have an opportunity to attend a game.
The evening wrapped up the team’s commemoration of Hockey is for Everyone month with the aid of several local youth programs.
Prior to the puck drop six children from the Fort Dupont Kids on Ice program met with NHL officials through Zebras Care, a National Hockey League Official’s Association program that provides children with an opportunity to attend a NHL game and meet NHLOA members.
The officials responded to questions on topics including job training and rules before allowing the children to try on their uniform shirts, autographing jerseys and presenting gift bags to their guests.
In addition several local programs participated in the night’s festivities.
Prior to the Capitals game against the New York Islanders, the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association held an afternoon match at Verizon Center.
Hours later, the Capitals emerged onto the ice through a flag tunnel created by children from the Fort Dupont Kids on Ice program. Throughout the game an ice crew comprised of the Reston Raiders U18 Girls program made repairs upon the surface.
Mites on Ice players from the Cabin John Ice Rink entertained the audience during the first intermission, demonstrating to the night’s sellout crowd some of the unique experiences Hockey Is for Everyone promotes.