By Claudette Roulo
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2015 – Pre-game and intermission events at the National Hockey League’s outdoor Winter Classic were all about the troops at Nationals Park here yesterday.
The standing-room-only crowd of 42,832 came to their feet as nearly 200 service members came on the field to represent all five branches of the armed forces as the U.S. Army Chorus performed the national anthem. On the ice behind them, players from area military and law enforcement hockey teams unfurled a massive 120- by 65-foot U.S. flag.
The performance was punctuated by fireworks and a flyover by a pair of Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcons from the District of Columbia’s 113th Wing.
“I felt it was just like an honor and a privilege. They came out and did this thing for us and it was really cool to be able to represent the Navy,” said Navy Seaman Carlton Duncan, an operations specialist assigned to the Joint Base Anacostia ceremonial guard.
"Regardless of what service you're in ... I don't think anything can quite make you feel better than when your fellow citizens are out there cheering for you and saying ‘Thank you for your service,’" said Army Maj. Thomas Mehl, assigned to the National Guard Bureau.
The opportunity was “unreal,” said Coast Guard Lt. Brian Doyle, assigned to the Coast Guard National Command Center.
“It's a whole lot different when you're down there looking back at everybody up in the stands,” Doyle said. “It's nice to know that people care, you know? They actually do pay attention to what we do and care. … we take a lot of pride in what we do and it's good to see that other people do, too.”
Honors Continued Throughout the Game
During the second intermission, the U.S. Army Chorus appeared on the field again to perform a medley of service songs.
In addition to the on-field ceremonies, Army Staff Sgt. Brandon J. Mahoney, Master Sgt. John R. Stricklett and Gen. Mark Milley, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, were named the Geico Heroes of the Game.
Mahoney received the Army Commendation Medal for valor for actions in Ghazni, Afghanistan, in 2010. For his actions in Iraq, Stricklett received the Bronze Star for valor in 2007 and the Army Commendation Medal for valor in 2003.
Scrimmage With the Blackhawks
Members of the USA Warriors wounded warrior hockey team played the Chicago Blackhawks in a loose scrimmage during their practice session Dec. 31. This is the third time the Warriors scrimmaged with the Blackhawks, and many of the Warriors have played in all three, said Warriors forward Jeremy Mishler, a Marine Corps veteran.
“[They're a] really good bunch of guys,” Mishler said of the Blackhawks players. “It's really like family when you go out there. We're having a good time, they're having a good time, and everybody's thanking everybody for the event.”
“It's special. It's a lot of fun. They look forward to it and our guys really enjoy it,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “These three games we have had with these guys -- almost three years in a row -- the guys enjoy that drill, too. It's a two-point scrimmage and [we] try to play up to 10, it's usually always tight.”
“The first time we didn't know whose reward it was,” Mishler said. “Was it our reward for skating with them, were they getting rewarded for skating with us? So it made us feel really good about that.”
There are usually about 50 players on the ice during these scrimmages, said Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane.
“It's good to see those guys and you definitely remember the faces,” he said. “... It's good for us to see military and soldiers -- what they went through and their stories. It brings you down to earth a little bit, too.”
In their Winter Classic contest, the Capitals beat the Blackhawks, 3-2.
About 40 Warriors will play today in a game on the NHL Winter Classic rink. Wounded troops who skate standing up will play in the first two periods of the game, and sled hockey players will come out for the third period.