Photo credit: Ann-Marie Ward
The day before the Washington Capitals played their most inspired game of the season — a 5-0 shellacking of the Florida Panthers, some special guests invaded Kettler Capitals Iceplex and raised the spirits of three Caps in particular: Braden Holtby, Jason Chimera, and Tomas Kundratek. The Caps hosted Extreme Recess Hockey in conjunction with Dreams For Kids DC, a program which allows children with physical and developmental disabilities — as well as at-risk youth — to get out on the ice and skate with the pros.
The event had a profound impact on both the children and players involved.
“It’s making me feel unreal,” Kundratek told John Walton in a team-produced video. “Kids having smiles on their faces. That’s what this is all about. This is my first time and I’m really enjoying it.”
The event was certainly a respite for the three Capitals who were there, as the team was a night removed from their lowest point of the lockout-shortened season, an embarrassing 5-2 loss to rival Pittsburgh. The Capitals owned a league-worst 2-8-1 record and have looked, at times, lost implementing Adam Oates’ new system.
“It kinda snaps you back to reality pretty quickly about how important life is, and what the true meaning of life is,” Chimera explained. “It’s important for us to be out here. It puts smiles on kids faces. It’s pretty heart-warming to come out here.”
Of course, the event also had a huge impact on the kids and parents involved as well.
RMNB reader Ann-Marie Ward and her five-year-old son Zachary attended and they had quite an experience.
I’ll let Ann-Marie give some context. Here’s an excerpt from the blog post she wrote on We’re a Caps Family, which you should most definitely read.
As many of you may know, my younger son Zachary has some developmental issues. He has a lot of difficulty with motor control, so even though he’s almost 5, he’s still learning how to walk and isn’t talking yet. While he is enrolled in an amazing preschool program and has many interests, he hasn’t ever been able to participate in sports like his older brother. He has spent many a Saturday watching his brother play soccer, ride his bike, or run around with his friends. And because we are huge hockey fans, he has spent lots of time at the ice rink, seeing other kids skate and, of course, watching the Caps practice.
Well Mom and son watched practice this day too, but once it ended, Zach got a totally new experience. This time he would go on the ice himself. After bravely getting buckled into a special sled, he joined 99 other kids on the ice.
After taking several laps around the ice, Zach first met his first Capitals player: Tomas Kundratek. Kundy, as his teammates call him, gave Zach some stuffed animals, skated him around the ice, and then snapped some pictures with the group. Later, Jason Chimera did the same.
Then Braden Holtby greeted the group. The Wards, who have followed Holtby’s career closely since he first played for the Bears, have a special place in their hearts for the 23-year-old Lloydminster, Saskatchewan native. As Braden skated young Zachary around, he jumped around in the sled with excitement. “I got really emotional seeing how much fun they were having,” Ward wrote later.
“When you get the opportunity to do these events, it really puts things in perspective,” Holtby said of the day. “Every time, it sends shivers up your spine being out here.”
As much as we’d all like to believe that sacrificing a rubber cow and goat had an impact on turning the Hockey Gods in our favor Saturday, the inspiration that Zach and the other 99 brave kids gave the players on Friday cannot be understated.
Zachary and I are taking full credit for this win. #Caps
— Ann-Marie Ward (@martina09) February 10, 2013
And I’m not the only one.