As fans and number nerds alike revel in the fun that is 11/11/11, it's important to remember that Nov. 11 traditionally sounds a much deeper and more solemn tone in both Canada and the United States.
Friday is of course Remembrance Day, or Veterans Day as it is called in the United States, and as teams line up at center ice in the seven games to be played across the NHL, there will be stark reminders of the dedication and sacrifice that has met the bravery of the armed forces.
"IN FLANDERS FIELDS"
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's In Flanders Fields was first published in the London-based Magazine "Punch" on December 8, 1915. Below is the text of In Flanders Fields as it appears in In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, a collection of poems by McCrae from 1919:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Remembrance Day was initially dedicated days before the one-year anniversary of the armistice signed to end the first World War on Nov. 11, 1918. Since then, the day has served as a reminder for those individuals who have put themselves in the line of fire in that conflict and all those since so we can enjoy as simple a pleasure as watching a hockey game.
To say that the sacrifices made by those who served in World War I, World War II and any global conflict after that makes a the game on the ice seem trivial is an understatement.
That sentiment is hardly lost on the players or the teams playing the game, and each year the NHL and its member clubs have made a conscious effort to pay respect and tribute to those who defend us. This year is no different, as clubs across the League are honoring veterans with various initiatives and ceremonies.
The most prominent dedication will be the wearing of poppies across the League. This annual tradition originates from the words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor serving in World War I who wrote the remarkable poem "In Flanders Fields" on May 3, 1915 in testament to the carnage of the Second Battle of Ypres in Belgium during World War I. It is widely believed that he wrote the poem after witnessing the death of his friend the day before.
That poem, both in its opening and closing lines, makes note of the poppies that grew in Flanders Fields, serving as a physical reminder of the tragic circumstances of war and of those who serve. The poem, as well as the principle of service, has a long-steeped tradition in hockey. The most notable example of NHL players defending their countries likely comes from Hall of Fame Maple Leafs goalie Johnny Bower
, whose three Stanley Cups and two Vezina Trophies came after he returned from a three-year stint fighting for the Canadian Army in World War II. Despite being wounded twice in the conflict, he would go on to win 250 games.
The Montreal Canadiens
, the franchise with perhaps the richest history of any in the NHL, pay daily tribute to veterans by quoting McCrae's words at the entrance of their locker room.
"To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high."
The honoring and observance of our veterans is clearly not an event reserved solely for one day a year. But as Nov. 11 arrives this year, teams are still making a point to go above and beyond the normal recognition to give veterans the kind of attention they deserve.
Here are some examples of the various initiatives by teams to honor the veterans and the fallen of our armed forces:
: The Ducks are hosting a Military Appreciation Night on Friday, during which fans will get American flags. Players will wear camouflage jerseys during warm-ups and wrap sticks in camouflage tape.
: The Bruins are hosting a Military Appreciation Night on Nov. 15 against New Jersey. The team will raffle off camouflage warm-up jerseys and camouflage-taped sticks in addition to honoring veterans throughout the game. The Bruins also recently visited the New England Center for Homeless Veterans.
: The Sabres will honor members of the armed forces and veterans from all over Western New York as well as collect donations for the WNY Heroes Organization. The team will also be auctioning off camouflage warm-up jerseys for charity. Chris Kreiger, the founder of WNY, will receive the Purple Heart before the game. The team is also hosting on-ice hockey clinics for wounded veterans.
: In New York to play the Rangers, the Hurricanes paid their respects Wednesday by touring the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan as well as One World Trade Center, the building being constructed at the site of the Twin Towers.
: The Blackhawks will wear camouflage warm-ups for the third straight year, which will later be auctioned off. The team will host an official enlistment ceremony for all branches of the armed forces during the first intermission.
: The Islanders held Military Appreciation Night on Nov. 5, during which the team wore camouflage warmups, honored veterans throughout the game and specifically recognized veterans who had received the Purple Heart.
: The Senators recently held Canadian Forces Night, during which the team in Canada's capital had over 3,300 military personnel and their families in attendance. In addition, the Sens Foundation partnered with multiple corporate supporters to build an endowment fund for Canadian Forces members and their children so they can attend one of the three Algonquin College campuses in Ontario.
The Penguins will host soliders who were a part of the team's July 4 show during Friday's game against Dallas, a game that will be broadcast on the American Forces Network to military basis around the world. ROOT Sports, which is televising the game, will have a live interview with Pittsburgh-based airmen serving overseas. There will be interviews throughout the telecast of other soldiers and their families -- including a live second-period interview with an 88-year-old World War II veteran, after he rides the Zamboni.
: The Coyotes held Military Heroes Appreciation Night on Nov. 10. The first 10,000 fans received John McCain bobblehead dolls, featuring the Arizona senator, Vietnam veteran and 2008 presidential candidate wearing a Coyotes jersey and waving an American flag. McCain was in attendance and participated in a ceremonial pregame puck drop.
: The Sharks wore camouflage warmups at the morning skate on Nov. 5 before their game against the Nashville Predators
. The jerseys were autographed and are being sold via blind auction, with proceeds benefitting San Jose area-based military charities.
: The Maple Leafs held a Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 8, which included a reading of "In Flanders Fields."