When the New York Islanders salute the military, the moment often calls for pause.
On Thursday afternoon, supporting our veterans called for paws.
The Islanders shot their 2018 dog calendar at Northwell Health Ice Center on Thursday, posing with a new crop of pups and service dogs. This year's calendar proceeds benefit America's VetDogs, a Long Island-based organization that trains dogs to assist combat veterans emotionally and physically.
"Those guys in the military do the toughest job in the world," Cal Clutterbuck said. "Even though some guys have physical scars, some guys have emotional scars, there's a lot of things going on with those guys. These pups are great for them in whatever they need them to do, whether it's just be a buddy, or something medically they need help with. It's a great cause."
Like last year, the calendar features adorable puppies in hockey settings with the Islanders. Clutterbuck and Andrew Ladd posed at center ice for a ceremonial puck drop with Elli, a golden lab who carried the puck out in her mouth. Josh Bailey did a photo shoot in the Islanders locker room while Casey Cizikas played a little tug-of-war with his service dog using a rope in the team gym.
They're just pups today, but some of the dogs at Thursday's shoot grow up to be vital resources for veterans. America's VetDogs learn up to 160 commands from opening doors, to retrieving cell phones and canes and providing emotional support. At the photo shoot, the dogs retrieved sticks, pucks and hockey tape.
"It's incredible. I even have somebody that helps train my dogs and he has seizure problems and the dog will actually sense somehow in his body that he'll have one, get behind him and make sure he doesn't fall down and hit his head," Clutterbuck said. "His dog saves his life every time he has an episode, so that's pretty amazing."
The veterans come in at the end of the process to bond with their service dogs and make sure they're the correct fit before going home. And it's all at no cost to them, the brave men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country.
"We rely heavily on donations as well as events and calendars like this," said Allison Storck, a representative from America's VetDogs. "Which is why we're so thankful to be partnering with the New York Islanders on their 2018 calendar."
Storck said the awareness raised from the Islanders shoot will pay dividends even after the calendar flips past 2018.
"It raises awareness of our mission to help our veterans," Storck said. "It's only beneficial to provide them with these incredible dogs that are able to help them live a life without boundaries and they find this new sense of freedom."
It's easy enough to convince people to play with puppies for an afternoon, but knowing that down the road more veterans will receive more service dogs because of it left the Islanders feeling good on Thursday.
"It's obviously a great thing to try and help out a lot of people that fight so far for this country and give us our freedom and the life that we have," John Tavares said. "Anything that can help them."
Stay tuned to find out when this year's calendar goes on sale.