It is now custom for the Washington Capitals to honor our country’s military heroes at each and every home game in the nation’s capital.
During these contests in the District at Verizon Center, a sea of red claps in unison and players tap their sticks against the boards as various military personnel and “wounded warriors” receive an emotional standing ovation in Washington’s barn.
Unfortunately though, not everyone can be present for the team’s display of gratitude. Capt. Mike Newman, signal officer with the 5/1 CAV., is one such case–a soldier in the U.S. Army stationed at Forward Outward Base (FOB) Frontenac just north of Kandahar in Afghanistan.
Newman, a big Caps fan, didn’t let the Middle Eastern heat melt his love for hockey. He and fellow soldiers took their love for the game to the streets after a group of Canadian soldiers in the area had built a street hockey rink and left it upon their departure. One of Newman’s fellow soldiers, who was also passionate about hockey, had his father ask the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Buffalo Sabres for equipment. The Sabres willingly donated ice hockey sticks, goalie leg pads, helmets, goals and balls.
After a number of the sticks splintered because they were made specifically for use on the ice, Newman followed in the footsteps of his fellow officer and connected with his brother, Tim Newman. Tim reached out to the Washington Capitals’ owner, Ted Leonsis.
Without hesitation, Leonsis forwarded the message on to the Capitals staff. Again, members of the Caps staff quickly responded and took initiative.
Caps amateur hockey & fan development coordinator Peter Robinson was able to obtain a full set of street hockey equipment (sticks, balls, two goals, multiple goalie equipment and goalie masks) and two sets of practice jerseys for Newman and other hockey enthusiasts stationed with him. He was also able to make the delivery of the equipment a formal event.
Newman and his brother Tim explained the delivery method as “above and beyond” as General Martin E. Dempsey–Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff–personally delivered the equipment to Newman and the troops in Afghanistan. Newman also felt he was treated “like royalty” during the visit with Dempsey as he was driven around and allowed access to a V.I.P. room upon Dempsey’s arrival.
"It was great having a "special delivery" for the troops and they were excited to receive the equipment,” said Dempsey. “They wanted to test it out right away.”
The troops, who played at least once a month–sometimes four to five times, depending on missions–“got to forget everything for one to two hours and it was a tremendous boost in morale,” Newman said. They also competed in three tournaments together over their time at the base.
While the back-and-forth e-mail communication and “thank-you’s” between the Newman’s and the Caps can’t come close to capturing the troops true appreciation, their pictures from the makeshift rink have helped.
“It was an amazing experience for me and the guys, and will be a permanent memory for the rest of my life,” Newman said.
Since receiving the equipment, Newman and his brigade have moved to a new location, but have left the gear and rink behind for others to use and enjoy. The rink and equipment can be seen as a reminder and symbol of support from the Washington Capitals for soldiers who are overseas.To see a full photo gallery, click here
NOTE: Washington also donates money to a different military charity each year through the selling of “Courage Caps” hats and T-shirts. The 2011-12 Courage Caps program presented by SKYDEX Technologies raised more than $100,000 for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). The Capitals presented a check to the president and founder of TAPS, Bonnie Carroll, during “Military Night” at Verizon Center for the total amount donated to the nonprofit. The sale of Courage Caps has raised almost $250,000 for charity in the five years of the program and more than $220,000 for local military charities in the past four seasons.