WASHINGTON -- Pat Meehan started playing hockey when was 4 years old on a partially covered rink in the Philadelphia suburbs.
"It had a roof but no sides and I remember being down there on cold morning with almost sub-zero weather that began to give you the sense of what it was like to make a commitment to hockey," Meehan said Thursday.
Now 61 and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District, Meehan serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Hockey Caucus, which held a panel discussion on Capitol Hill on Thursday to highlight the positive changes the sport has brought to the communities it serves as it has grown throughout the country. Meehan also plays and will put on the skates for 2017 Congressional Hockey Challenge game between the Lawmakers and the Lobbyists at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia, on Thursday evening.
"It's not just that the game has grown," Meehan said. "It's that the skill level in the game is just remarkable. When we were starting out, there were kids who were naturally talented that didn't have the overall competition the way they do today and it's nice."
The Stanley Cup was on hand for the panel discussion, which included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, executive director of USA Hockey Dave Ogrean, Washington Capitals president Dick Patrick, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Canadian Parliament members Gord Brown and John Brassard.
Proceeds from the Congressional Hockey Challenge game will benefit the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in Washington and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The USA Warriors' objective is to use hockey to provide a recreational and therapeutic experience for wounded veterans. The Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club, founded in 1977, is the oldest minority youth hockey program in North America and a part of the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone initiative, which promotes giving children of all backgrounds the opportunity to play the game.
The Thurgood Marshall College Fund supports historically black colleges and universities, medical schools and law schools.
Since the first Congressional Hockey Challenge in 2009, the event has raised $850,000 for those organizations.
Commissioner Bettman said the importance of the Congressional Hockey Caucus is that "it gives a recognition and profile for the game as something that's important in communities and important in people's lives and our teams, our league, our players, USA Hockey all work together to do initiatives in the communities that make a difference in people's lives."
Ogrean detailed how participation in hockey has grown at all age levels among males and females and among disabled participants. That includes sled hockey, standing amputee hockey, deaf and hard of hearing hockey, special hockey, blind hockey and the USA Warriors program.
"We are about as completely vertical an organization as there is, from young people to players over 60 years old," Ogrean said. "Our support of growing female hockey, especially since its first appearance in the Winter Olympics [in 1998], our embrace of disabled hockey and sled hockey and all the disabled disciplines, I think it's continuing to broaden the whole embrace of hockey. That's what I'm most proud of, that we really are trying to make it accessible to everyone."