Amy Knight tried her best, but she couldn't hold back the tears.
The 38-year-old Navy Lieutenant walked into the Penguins locker room at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex following the team's Friday practice and saw the gold jerseys hanging in the stalls.
"When we walked in here, I thought we were going to get our picture with the team," Knight said. "I thought that's going to be awesome. And then I saw the jerseys. I knew I wasn't going to be able to keep it together."
Hanging in the stall was a personalized authentic team jersey with Knight's name on the back. Knight and nine other veterans attended the Penguins' practice, toured the locker room, received a personalized jersey and met with the team's American-born players.
"I really didn't know what we were doing. I just thought we were coming to practice," she said. "I'm very grateful."
Video: Penguins Host Military Veterans at Practice
Knight was joined by Army Specialist Tony Canzonieri, USMC Corporal Naseem Choudhry, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Patti Gerhauser, sisters and Coast Guard Petty Officers Elaine and Nanette Jergons, Army Sergeant Summer Leahey, Army Specialist Madeline Malizio, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Martin and Air Force Tech Sergeant Nicole McAfoose.
"As far as recognizing the veterans I think that's a very good thing. The Penguins do a very good job of getting into the community," said Martin, 71, a Vietnam veteran.
The veterans were matched up with one of the Penguins' American crew for a photo with their new jersey, which included Brian Dumoulin, Jake Guentzel, Jack Johnson, Alex Galchenyuk, Bryan Rust, Nick Bjugstad, Chad Ruhwedel, Zach Aston-Reese, Sam Lafferty and head coach Mike Sullivan. Everyone took a group photo afterward.
"It's something really awesome that we do," Rust said. "These people put their lives on the line. They do so much for us and our country. It's just a small gesture in comparison, but we're happy to do it."
The 10 veterans will also be attending, in a party suite, the Penguins Saturday night contest against Chicago at PPG Paints Arena in the team's annual Veterans Day celebration.
Martin, who volunteers at the American Legion in Swissville, will be taking his son and two grandchildren.
Martin's connection to the Penguins goes back decades. His family has had season tickets since the team's inception in 1967, his sister attended Pierre Larouche's wedding and he helped Eddie Johnston care for the hot tubs and pool equipment at the old training facility in Southpointe.
"We've had tickets since the 60s," he said through his long white beard. "Basically, since they started playing."
Malizio had an extra surprise from Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. (add link here)
Knight has spent her last 20 years of service overseas and plans on retiring in Pittsburgh, where she has resided for the past five years. "I love it here," she said.
Knight will also ride the Zamboni at Saturday's game during intermission. "I'm living out all my childhood dreams in one weekend," she joked.
And as Bjugstad shook Knight's hand, he said, "Thank you for your service."
"I was up there crying like a baby," Knight said. "That was amazing,"