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Veterans Attend Penguins' Practice

by Brittany Goncar / Pittsburgh Penguins

It was Christmas in March for 12 military veterans Tuesday afternoon.

The dozen American heroes, which includes one World War II vet and one Korean War vet, watched the Penguins practice at CONSOL Energy Center.

“I was very excited,” Marines Corporal Ramen Blakey said. “This is a time to remember. I’ve never seen them in person. This is the first time I’ve been here.” 

On a typical game day the veterans tune in from their bedrooms at the V.A. Hospital. Sometimes the guys get together in the recreation room and drink a few pops. The important part is that they never miss a game. 

Electrician’s Mate Anthony Rapp has been a Penguins fan for about 30 years and always found time for hockey. 

“I was working out of town all the time,” Rapp said. “When I’d come home I’d be sure, during hockey season anyways, to get tickets and go see the game. I enjoy it.”

Set up in the Captain Morgan Club, the veterans from Korea, Vietnam and WWII were able to stay for the entire practice and were provided with gift bags by the Penguins.

John H. Onstott, E-4 Special Force, has long been a hockey fan, especially of Mario Lemieux. He remembers watching hockey before Pittsburgh even had an NHL team. 

“I’ve always been a Penguins fan, always,” Onstott said, “when they were the Hornets in the minor league.”

Roberta Irwin, a special volunteer, came up with the idea of attending practice. Irwin, who used to watch hockey games with her husband – a WWII vet, knew that the patients were huge fans.

“I thought, ‘What about (attending) a practice?’” Irwin said.

Although the veterans have been long time fans, Tuesday was the first time most of them have ever been inside CONSOL Energy Center.

“It’s a beautiful structure they’ve got here,” Rapp said. “I can’t believe what they’ve done here, but they did it. They had to do something here and they did it. They did it right.”

Pens players and coaches salute the military veterans before Tuesday's practice

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