Throughout the Penguins' sellout crowd of 18,438 on Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena against the Buffalo Sabres were numerous heroes, United States veterans who have served our country.
In the third period, when the veterans in attendance were asked to stand, a thunderous roar erupted from the crowd and everyone in the arena clapped.
While the Penguins' game operations crew takes time to honor the veterans in attendance at some point during each game, tonight serving as the Penguins Annual Veterans Day Celebration added an extra element of significance. The applause was a little louder and a little longer, there were a few more heroes upright, and for a special group of 15, it was a day that started much earlier.
"It was phenomenal," said Specialist Charles Rock, who served with the Army. "It was something I didn't expect. I'm glad to be a part of it, it means a lot."
The Penguins hosted 15 veterans from the branches of the Army, Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and Navy to an up-close and personal look at morning skate. The veterans then were escorted to the locker room, where they received personalized jerseys delivered to them by the players.
The jersey exchange served as a surprise in a day that was full of them. The veterans met some Penguins players and took a photo with them in the locker room. They also had a luncheon and were invited back to the game, a 5-4 overtime win by the Penguins.
Pressed up against the glass during morning skate wearing white Penguins jerseys were a pair of veterans. The similarities didn't end there, as the duo was Sergeant Brian and Sergeant Toshua Jarrett from the Army. The two got married in 2008, and then enlisted on the same day in 2009.
"We graduated college and wanted to join the military," Toshua said. "It's something we both wanted to do at a young age. We thought it was now or never, so we decided to join together. We enlisted together in June of 2009 and left in October of 2009."
Brian and Toshua, used to doing things together, rode separate Zambonis during the ice re-surfacing after warmups. They can now sport matching personalized jerseys to Penguins home games as well.
"It's fantastic," Brian said. "It just shows what a wonderful organization we have, what a great community we have in Pittsburgh, the teams that are in the community and support the community and the veterans. You couldn't ask for anything more."
The Penguins wore commemorative camouflage jerseys in pre-game warmups, which had various military branches crested within the numbers of the players. The jerseys will be autographed and auctioned online by the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation from Nov. 14 through Nov. 27, with proceeds benefiting the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania.
The anthem was sung by Technical Sergeant Keisha Gwin of the Air Force, while members of the United States Air Force hosted the colors as an enormous USA flag shimmered in the lower bowl.
The Penguins presented a special Veterans Day-themed opening video, as well as various videos on the jumbotron filtered in during stoppages of those currently serving that are stationed away from home. Evgeni Malkin also hosted veterans from the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania in his charity suite.
While the veterans were thrilled to get to meet some of the Penguins players this morning, the players showed an equal amount of admiration for America's true heroes, some sticking around much later after morning skate for autographs, pictures, and conversations.
Sergeant Ryan Brandt, of the Marine Corps was visibly excited at the experience, taking in the atmosphere of the locker room and spending time chatting with Tristan Jarry and Josh Archibald at their stalls.
"This was great," Brandt said. "This was incredible. It's something a lot of people wish they could do, and to get the opportunity to do it is a blessing. I think it says a lot about the organization. For them to go out of the way and show us love and respect, it means a lot. These guys are obviously the best at what they do, and their time is limited, but for these guys to take the time to show thanks to us, it means a lot."
For a city such as Pittsburgh, with a rich military history in America due to how much their steel production was a catalyst for the United States during World War II, it was a fitting scene to see their hockey team show so much respect to the military.
Captain Dave Andros, an Army veteran, expressed his appreciation for the Penguins to reach out and put a special day like today together.
"I think the organization embodies a lot about what Pittsburgh is about," Andros said. "Being blue collar, down to earth, and giving back. It speaks a lot about the organization to have us meet the players and host us all day. It shows that they care."