SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers received an inspiring pre-game pep talk from a distinguished military guest before battling the Philadelphia Flyers at the BB&T Center on Tuesday.
Retired 1st Sgt. Matt Eversmann, who was famously portrayed by actor Josh Hartnett in the 2001 blockbuster "Black Hawk Down", spoke from the heart while addressing the locker room, touching specifically on the merits of leadership, the power of camaraderie and the key to finding success in the face of adversity.
"I think it was one of the best speeches we've ever had," Panthers President and CEO Matt Caldwell said. "It's all about teammates. He told us the 'Black Hawk Down' story and how he knew that his guys had his back. I thought it was very touching."
On Oct. 3, 1993, Eversmann was in charge of 14 Army Rangers on a mission to capture two of Somalia military commander Mohammed Adid's top lieutenants within the increasingly hostile city Mogadishu.
What began as a routine mission, however, quickly devolved into chaos.
Eversmann, then a staff sergeant, was among a group of Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers that became trapped in within an extremely volatile region of the Somali capital after two helicopters were shot down and three others were damaged.
For eighteen hours, Eversmann and his fellow soldiers -- vastly outnumbered and targeted by an angry mob - fended off a fierce, unrelenting attack until finally being rescued. By that time, 18 Americans had perished and 73 more were injured.
It was during this conflict that Eversmann learned the powerful nature of brotherhood in battle.
"It doesn't matter your rank, your age, your color or your ethnicity, it's about your commitment to each other," Eversmann said with fierce passion. "I told [the players] the real life story about what happened to me in the battlefield and tried to translate it over to what happens to them on the ice.
"It's an intangible, indefinable and indescribable feeling of that commitment… I believe for combative men like hockey players that have skill, tenacity, as well wherewithal about the big picture, that they get it."
For the courage and leadership he demonstrated on that fateful day Eversmann received the Bronze Star Medal with Valor device and the Combat Infantryman's Badge.
During his 20 years of service, Eversmann was also awarded numerous additional military decorations, including the Army Service Ribbon, the National Defense Service Ribbon and eight Army Achievement medals. Before retiring from active military duty in 2008, he also served eighteen months in Iraq where he led an elite Army Ranger force.
"It's obviously an amazing story," Panthers forward Shawn Thornton said. "I mean they made a movie and a book out of it. We're privileged to have someone like him want to come in and talk to us."
As a token of their appreciation, the Panthers awarded Eversmann with a signed military-themed jersey and a commander coin featuring the No. 75 - in honor of Eversmann's 75th Ranger Regiment.
"I think the guys got a lot out of it," Thornton said. "The whole idea of responding as a team and how your game plan doesn't always go the way you want it to go, but you have to adapt to get the job done. It was an honor to meet him."