TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated 46 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients before their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday at Amalie Arena.
World War II Medal of Honor recipient Hershel W. Woody Williams did the ceremonial puck drop with Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Williams, 96, is the second-oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor.
"To see all of the guys and to get the chance to do the puck drop was pretty neat, and to get to shake their hands...," Stamkos said. "They did tremendous things for this country. It was pretty cool."
"Amazing," Crosby said. "When you're a hockey player you get to be part of certain things. But to be around people as courageous and brave as the people here tonight and have them all together in one place is pretty unique. I think we all are pretty honored to be part of it and I tried to thank as many as I could."
The city of Tampa is hosting the Medal of Honor Foundation's annual convention this week.
Karl Horst, the current President of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and Retired U.S. Army Major General, said that Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has been a gracious host and sponsor of the convention and the recipients are enjoying the hospitality.
"What they feel is immense pride," Horst said. "These are our nation's highest heroes. They are humble guys. They appreciate the opportunity to talk about what's best in America. These are American heroes."
Vinik took time to meet with each of the recipients during a meet-and-greet before the game.
"I'm just thanking every one of them for their service," Vinik said. "It's quite a humbling moment for me to meet all these people."
Vinik has a great appreciation for the military and has encompassed that into the Lightning's game presentation. A fixture at each Lightning game is a "Standing Salute" where a local member of the Armed Forces that is currently serving or a veteran is recognized.
However, he admitted that being around all of the Medal of Honor recipients at once was a little overwhelming.
"I would say, honestly, this is my favorite moment since being an owner here," Vinik said. "When [the Lightning] win the Stanley Cup that moment will be right up there with this moment. Those will be the two best moments.
"Over 40 medal of honor winners, the best of the best, what these gentlemen have accomplished and what they've given to our country is unbelievable. And to be able to meet them and shake hands with every one of them, how privileged am I to be in this situation?"
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was also in attendance for the event.
"What an incredible night," he said. "An incredible gathering of, to call them distinguished people, is an understatement. It was incredible, especially the puck drop. When you think of everything these individuals have given our country and to have them all gathered here. This is a remarkable, truly special occasion.
"I wouldn't have missed an opportunity to witness this firsthand because it's so special."
There are 70 living Congressional Medal of Honor recipients in all with 49 from the Vietnam War, 14 from the War on Terror, five from the Korean War and two from World War II.