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Jets season-seat holders fully appreciate Canadian Armed Forces Night

"I've heard stories that all they do is make me wish I had eight season seats or more."

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

There is one game on the regular season schedule that Dale Saunders looks forward to more than any other.

It isn't the home opener, bobblehead night, or even a Central Division rivalry night - although, all three of those are right up there in his books.

But the one he looks forward to the most is Canadian Armed Forces Appreciation Night.

"I've been doing it for at least four years minimum," said Saunders, who has four seats in section 112 of Bell MTS Place, and is one of the many season-seat holders who donate their tickets to the men and women of the Armed Forces on that particular night.

"The first year I donated two seats and brought a customer. It was such an inspiring game to be at with the Armed Forces. After that, every year I donate three of the tickets and I go entertain them. The two season tickets behind me, they donate theirs also. We usually have five of us right there."

Saunders, who works in the wine industry, even thought about donating his own seat in addition to the other three. But he says he likes to have the opportunity to thank those in the Armed Forces for what they do.

"I buy them a couple glasses of wine each for the game," said Saunders, who finds it extra special when he reunites with these men and women years later and they have the opportunity to catch up.

"Every single year I've bumped into someone at the game, one of the enlisted men and women, and they'll yell 'Hey Dale! How are you?'"

That relationship begins to build even before puck drop.

The members of the Canadian Armed Forces in attendance have no idea where they're sitting until they receive their ticket.

"I love that there is no preference of who gets to sit where," said Saunders. "Over the years I've had a field nurse, I've had a tank commander, I've had reservists, I've had truck drivers. I've had a smorgasbord of Armed Forces people, both male and female.

"Two years ago I had a couple there. The one guy was a tank commander and his wife was a field nurse. It was pretty cool that they ended up being able to sit together."

Like Saunders, Canadian Armed Forces members like to get the whole experience on game day, making sure they're in their seats for warm-up.

That's when the stories that Saunders loves so much, begin.

"I've heard stories that all they do is make me wish I had eight season seats or more, just for what they do for everybody in the country," said Saunders, who has family members with Armed Forces connections dating back to World War I.

He's stayed in touch with some of the people he's met over the four years he's donated tickets. He and the company he works for - Andrew Peller Limited - support the First Canadian Air Division Commander's Gala Dinner.

"Just the fact we've been involved with the Canadian Armed Forces, and it's extended outside the arena, which to me is a really cool thing," he said.

When this year's Canadian Armed Forces Night against the Colorado Avalanche comes to an end, Saunders will already be looking forward to doing it again next season.

"I don't think it matters if someone was in section 308 at the top row or in row one, they can say to themselves that someone is thinking of us and giving us this opportunity," said Saunders.

"Kudos to Mr. Chipman and True North for giving us as season seat holders or us as fans to actually make these donations."

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