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Pens Honor the Real Heroes

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Little kids grow up idolizing hockey players and athletes, but the true heroes are those who serve their country.

And on Veterans Day, the Penguins proudly hosted 12 wounded military veterans at their Friday morning skate to honor them for their sacrifices.

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“Most hockey players and everybody in this room really looks up to them,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said of the veterans. “They are the true heroes here. It’s an honor to meet them and we are honored to have them here.

“I can’t thank those guys enough for what they do and allowing us to be who we are. It’s a tremendous opportunity to meet them.”

The veterans, who are representatives of the Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Troop Appreciation and the Veterans’ Administration, each received an individualized Penguins jersey from a Penguins player before the morning skate.

They then watched the practice from Suite 66 and, as an added bonus, received a visit from Penguins owner and legend Mario Lemieux.

“We didn’t expect any of that,” said first lieutenant Tom Horvath, who was in Iraq from 2003-05 and will be deployed to Kuwait next year.

“We just wanted to come down and hang out and see the practice. There was a lot more involved with it than we had ever anticipated we were going to get.”

The Penguins have a full day of activities planned for the veterans on this special day in addition to hosting them at Friday’s morning skate.

Among the special guests at Friday’s game against Dallas will be military members hosted in charity suites purchased by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while military veterans will take part in Zamboni rides before the game and during intermissions. (Click here for a full list of the “Support Our Heroes” initiatives).

Veterans Day is particularly meaningful to the vets themselves.

For sergeant John Kastle, who grew up in Carnegie, Pa., he’s not just thankful to the Penguins for honoring the military on this day – he’s thankful to everyone.

“It’s amazing how our country gets behind the soldiers,” he said. “In one day they all get behind us. It’s amazing.”

For Horvath, it means reflecting on soldiers who have fallen in wars past that didn’t have the resources he and his comrades have today.

“They had it much harder than I’ve had today,” he said. “We have a lot more resources, technology – anything to keep us safe as soldiers. Those that have passed, they’ve had it hard.”

It’s definitely an incredibly emotional day for many as they reflect on the magnitude of the sacrifices their parents, grandparents and those fighting overseas right now have made for their freedom. But the soldiers present at CONSOL Energy Center plan to make it a joyous occasion – starting with this opportunity to see their favorite team up close.

“It’s awesome. I can’t believe they have that support for us and what we do,” Horvath said. “It’s just great to have the privilege to be here today.”

And the Penguins are privileged to have them.
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