PHILADELPHIA -- Daniel Briere was one of six Philadelphia Flyers alumni on the ice at Wells Fargo Center with children from the United Heroes League on Tuesday.
The 30 children, who ranged from ages 8-16, were the sons or daughters of active-duty military personnel. A number of the children have parents that are deployed around the world.
Briere understands what those children are going through. His wife, Mischa, is in the United States Air Force and currently is serving a three-month tour of duty in Saudi Arabia.
"It hits home probably even more when you're involved and your own family has to deploy and sacrifice," Briere said. "For me to be here and support their families and realizing how important what they do is for all of us sitting here, having a chance to have that freedom, it's nothing like what they go through."
Shane Hudella, founder and president of United Heroes League, said it's important for military families to have these type of events to take their minds off more serious situations at home.
"This is what every kid, whether they're military or not, lives for, to come and skate on the same ice as their idols, the pro hockey players," he said. "To be able to come out there and not only skate at the NHL arena but share the ice and get instruction from guys like Danny Briere and some of the all-time greats that are out there with them, it's a dream come true. It's really a great way for them to take their mind off of a parent potentially being in harm's way or some of the things that go along with military service."
One of those children skating in the clinic was Jacob Simcox, 11, who lives in Fort Dix, New Jersey, and skates on a team housed at Igloo Ice Rink in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
"It's really nice to be here," he said. "It's fun to play here and it's really interesting to be on the ice here."
It was more than interesting to his father, Bob Simcox, who serves with the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Strike Team, which is based at Fort Dix.
"It's awesome," he said. "It's awesome to be out here and for him to be out on this ice and to be out with these guys."
The United Heroes League clinic was one of a number of events the Flyers held as part of Military Appreciation Night during their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CSN-PH, FS-D, NHL.TV).
During the pre-game warmup the Flyers will wear special camouflage jerseys featuring patches from the four branches of the United States military that will be given to active-duty soldiers. Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds is hosting members of the U.S. Army 1-150th Assault Helicopter Battalion Alpha Company, based in Trenton, New Jersey, in his "Wayne's Warriors" suite. Captain Claude Giroux will have members of the military and the USO in his "Giroux's Crew" suite.
There also will be a ceremonial puck drop conducted by U.S. Navy Canine Officer OJ, a Labrador who has served two years as an explosives detector. OJ will be accompanied by U.S. Navy Petty Officer Ashley Scully, who is stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.
"We try to show our appreciation to them whether it's tonight, Military Appreciation Night, or not," Simmonds said. "We appreciate they keep us safe back home."
For Flyers forward Matt Read, appreciation for the military isn't one night on the calendar. His father, Loren, is a retired member of the Canadian Army and his younger brother, Mitchell, is in the Canadian Air Force and is stationed in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
"Without the troops who knows where we'd be," Read said. "We live a pretty good life back here in the United States. You give a lot of credit to the people that fight overseas for our freedom and to live the lives we get to live. It's a great night, a thing that we can do but not as much as they deserve."
Read said he considered military service but was more passionate about hockey.
"I explored it," he said. "If you commit your life to the military there's a lot of benefits, things that civilians don't really get. At the same time it's tough to put yourself in that picture where you're in a war. … It's a job not for everybody, only for the brave."
Read was born in Ilderton, Ontario, but because of his father's job he also spent time living in Calgary; Vancouver Island, British Columbia; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Whitehorse, Yukon; and London, Ontario.
Bob Simcox grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Edgewater Park, New Jersey, but his military service has taken him to Louisiana and Florida, where finding ice for his son was difficult.
"I grew up being a Flyers fan and got [Jacob] into hockey," he said. "I help out coaching. It's great to see him out here with these guys."
Briere said the time he spent on the ice Tuesday was as fun for him as it was for the children from United Heroes League.
"What these families are sacrificing, we give up a few minutes of our time to support them," he said. "It's nothing compared to what they're able to provide our country and our freedom. I feel fortunate to be able to be here and be involved in this event."