There's something about hockey.
Besides soccer, it's potentially the most widely-flung sport on earth, played pretty much everywhere cold enough to enjoy a good, deep freeze and support a rink. It's played by nearly all peoples of the northern hemisphere, and the love harbored for it is one that transcends languages, borders, and continents. The breadth of its appeal is more than just geographic, though.
Nowhere was this fact more apparent than Friday afternoon at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Virginia, where the Washington Capitals, Monumental Sports and Entertainment Foundation, and Dreams For Kids DC hosted an event for children with disabilities. From their mission statement:
Dreams For Kids DC (DFKDC) provides life-changing activities that empower children with physical and developmental disabilities to unite with their peers and realize their potential.
Dozens and dozens of children and their families got the chance to feel the quick, chilly thrill of playing hockey on the Caps' ice alongside an even greater number of volunteers. Thanks to the efforts of lots of good-hearted hockey people, plus Ian Cohen of Leveling the Playing Field who provided much of the equipment, kids of all abilities got to spend a day passing, shooting, and skating with their heroes. Three volunteers were certainly the most popular: Tom Wilson, Taylor Chorney, and Slapshot (who deserves his own hyperlinked SB Nation page if he didn't get one).
Those who were able to skate received hockey or figure skates, and kid-sized plastic sticks completed the grinder ensemble. Kids who preferred or required it got specially-designed ice sleds and their own sticks, and I'll tell you - some of the sharpest shooters I saw out there were sled-bound snipers.
Japers' Rink's own Brendan Sheridan (you may know him as Capitals Hill) got me involved in the event, and he truly deserves more credit. This is Brendan's sixth year volunteering, there since its very inception. He also put together the USA Warriors Hockey vs. D.C. Media charity hockey game in 2015, in which schmucks like yours truly, Laughlin & Daughter, and many other blogger ennui-people got our asses handed to us by some genuine heroes.
The Capitals players involved this time exemplified class, and personified what a winning, successful organization can and ought to be able to do for the community that supports it. Tom Wilson shook hands, gave and received hugs, and took pictures with anyone who asked. Ditto, Taylor Chorney, who I got the chance to spend an extended amount of time with, passing the puck with a boy on a sled named Antonio.
Not a single person at the event didn't benefit for having participated in it, and the Capitals further endear themselves to their fans nearly every day, it seems.
In between the more eternally significant activity at hand, I got a chance to congratulate Chorney, who just that day signed a two-year, $1.6 million extension with the Capitals after being replaced in the line-up by the return of Brooks Orpik. I got the chance to tell Chorney what I think a lot of Caps fans would like to: thanks. I told him he stepped up to fill the hole impressively and admirably, and that he deserved every cent of his new contract. I told him this city loves him. He seemed to genuinely appreciate it. He sure fooled me with that smile if he didn't.
I can say that I saw more electrifying, broad-as-the-moon smiles in that rink - on the faces of both children and adults, participants and volunteers - than I reckon I've seen at a dozen weddings. So many of these kids love to play hockey. I spent an hour distributing one-timer passes to a group of several five to ten year-olds; some of them demonstrated herculean grit and determination just staying on their blades. The pure, popcorn joy they got from pushing, slapping, or blasting that puck into a real NHL net was something that I'm getting chills even now just thinking about.
We got to high-five, hoot and holler, and roar for kids who have maybe never experienced celebrating an athletic accomplishment. We had the holy chance to teach kids to smile, to encourage them to love something they can do. Yes, this is fun.
I taught kids to celly. Hard.
But more than anything, the sport of hockey that gives all of us so much damn joy so freakishly often...well, it was able to spread its reach just a little further.
(Note: Most photos credit and courtesy of Ann-Marie Ward, whose blog can be found here.)