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Don't forget, remember the vets

by Phil Coffey /
It might be an exaggeration to say the fans who attend the six NHL games Wednesday night have all the veterans of Canada and the United States to thank for the freedom that allows them to do something as simple as attend a game.

But it may well not be an exaggeration, and that's the point of Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States. For without the service and sacrifices of so many who have come before and who currently serve in the armed forces, there is no way of knowing if the freedom to attend a hockey game -- something we never give a second thought to today -- might somehow have been compromised.

"We have so much to learn from those people," said Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, who will coach in his 1,000th NHL game Wednesday against the Red Wings. "They make the ultimate sacrifice every day. We just talk about it. We have so much to learn from their discipline and their attention to detail. Because of what is at stake, if they don't pay attention to detail and they don't have discipline ...

"The connection for me to the military should be very emotional. They do our dirty work and they do it really, really well. They're like the big guard dogs, they take care of us so we can enjoy our lives. They're the ones taking care of us and keeping people away. I really admire that. I feel like the people that are responsible for our protection deserve as many accolades as they can get."

Last season, wrote about a phrase prominently placed in the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room, a phrase that still inspires and awes at the same time.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If that doesn't get you ready to take the ice, few things will. But the origin of those words comes from a completely different context.

They are, of course, words from the World War I poem by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a doctor who served on the front lines. His lines were not intended to exhort future generations of hockey players to win games, but instead to soberly remember the carnage of war.

McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" on May 3, 1915 as a testament to the terrible destruction of the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium during "The Great War." Thousands of men gave what Abraham Lincoln called in the Gettysburg Address "the last full measure of devotion."

In NHL arenas in Washington D.C., Columbus, Buffalo, Newark, Raleigh and Chicago, teams will line up at their respective blue lines and fans will stand for moments of silence to remember the gallant. The sanctity already was seen on the ice starting last weekend as veterans held aloft the colors and saluted fallen friends as we remembered.

For the first time in franchise history, the Chicago Blackhawks will wear special camouflage jerseys during warm-ups Wednesday prior to their game with the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center as part of a Blackhawks/Boeing "Salute to the Military."

These one-of-a-kind jerseys, which are being worn in support of those that serve or have served in the military, will be autographed by the players and auctioned online at between Nov. 11 and 18, with all proceeds benefitting the USO of Illinois. The Blackhawks and Boeing are also hosting 50 military members and their guests at the game.

"We are truly grateful to be partners with the Blackhawks and Boeing," USO of Illinois President and COO Anthony Enrietto Jr. said. "This relationship is the embodiment of the profound respect and gratitude that our country and these organizations feel for the men and women who wear the cloth of our nation. The outpouring of support from both sides has been amazing."

"It's an honor for our organization and players to take part in such a special cause," Blackhawks Senior Vice President of Business Operations Jay Blunk said. "This is something that has never been done in our franchise's 83 years. We all stand in appreciation for the sacrifices made by the men and women of our armed forces each and every day and are excited to help pay tribute in this way."

Wednesday in Washington, where the Capitals will face the Islanders, there will be several tributes to the armed forces.

Microsoft, the Capitals and the USO of Metropolitan Washington will host 50 wounded warriors and their families at the game, while a tribute video will include photos of Caps fans stationed around the world.

Also Wednesday, fans will be able to purchase Courage Caps, presented by Microsoft, which are team-issued and -branded hats that will be sold through December at Capitals home games, at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and online at with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting USO-Metro. The Courage Caps program has raised nearly $70,000 in its first two years.

In addition, the Capitals' American players kicked off the Veterans Day celebration Monday, volunteering at Operation USO Care Package Day at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

In Columbus, the Blue Jackets will host Military Appreciation Day prior to facing off against the Detroit Red Wings.

Before the game, the 338th U.S. Army Band will perform on the concourse while fans are encouraged to visit displays featuring battle flags, artifacts and uniforms provided by the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio National Guard. Fans also may visit informational kiosks to learn more about the Ohio Historical Society, Department of Veteran Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America, U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute, Wounded Warrior Project and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

Just prior to puck drop, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines will be represented during the pre-game ritual of carrying the flag followed by the multi-service Honor Guard's participation in the presentation of the national anthem. The evening also will feature in-game recognition of all current and former military personnel in attendance. Fans may also express their appreciation by signing cards that will be sent to overseas troops by The Thank You Foundation.

The Boston Bruins are idle Wednesday, but will honor local military members, veterans and their families at "Military Appreciation Night" on Thursday, Nov. 12, during their game against the Florida Panthers at the TD Garden.

In support of the armed forces, Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart has purchased $5,000 worth of tickets to the game that he will give to local military members and their families.

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