Saturday, February 22, 2014

Caps / Dreams for Kids 2/22/14

Zachary and I were so excited to participate in Dreams for Kids DC's Extreme Recess with the Caps again this year. You can read about last year's event here.

If you don't know already, Zachary is an almost 6 year old kindergartner with cerebral palsy. He has a lot of physical challenges in his life, but he is one feisty little guy and has made so much progress in the past 6 years. We try to expose Zachary to as many experiences as we can and keep his life as normal and typical as possible. But one activity that he doesn't get to do much is sports. That's why events like this are so special to him.

I told Zachary this morning that we were going to skate with the Caps at Kettler, and he was so excited! We made him a photo book of last year's event, so we looked that over beforehand to review what we'd be doing.

The set-up was a little different this year. The event started at 11:30, so we missed the Caps practice. We could have come earlier to watch, but we attend practice a lot, and I knew it was going to be a long day with a lot of waiting, so we skipped it this time.

When we arrived at Kettler, we checked in, got Zachary a t-shirt, and went upstairs, where they were serving pizza. We were able to watch Jason Chimera practicing on the ice with his little son and a few other players, so that was fun.

Then we met up with our volunteer Liz and headed downstairs to get our gear.

Zachary's walking is much more stable compared to last year, but his legs and ankles still aren't strong enough for skates, so he got to ride on a sled again. We are hopeful that one of these years he'll get to try this event on skates instead! Because he needs the sled, this is the only opportunity he'll get to go on the ice all year, and boy, was he ready.

We got to watch the Zamboni (actually, it's an Olympia-brand ice-resurfacer, if you want to be specific) before it was time to get on the ice. Zachary is just dying to ride on that sometime - he loves watching it so much!

Zachary and the other kids waited patiently to get on the ice. It was fun to see some familiar faces from last year, and also see some people that I've only met via social media.

Finally, they gave us the okay to go on the ice! Zachary was basically grinning from ear to ear for the next hour. He wanted to keep going, around and around the ice. He gave us all quite a work-out! He was always so annoyed anytime we stopped to pose for photos, which you'll see in his expressions. I don't think he recognizes the players out of their gear, so he didn't see what was so important that we needed to stop to take pictures!

Before the Caps players came over to our side of the ice, Zachary got the chance to "play" hockey with a few boys who were volunteering. They are clearly experienced hockey players, I'd guess they were maybe 11 or 12 years old. They were amazing with Zachary. I can't tell you how beneficial it is for Zachary to interact with typically developing peers. He was thrilled that they wanted to play with him and really enjoyed playing goalie with them. They were all having a good time. If their parents are somehow reading this, great job raising such good role models! I get a little emotional thinking about this, because kids can be intolerant and mean sometimes. It's just so nice to see these positive interactions.

After some more laps around the ice, Zachary got to meet some Caps players. I've said this before, but hockey players really are the nicest people. I have probably met 3/4 of the Caps team by now, and they are always so friendly. To see them interacting with all the kids was just great.

As we were going around the ice, Zachary noticed John Erskine's gloves laying there so he picked them up and put them on. He wore them for the rest of the time we were there. Thanks for being such a good sport about it, John!

We also met Jack Hillen, who's looking pretty good despite rehabbing a leg injury.

And Connor Carrick, who, at 19, is closer in age to Zachary than to me. I'm not going to think about that anymore. :)

Zachary was just fascinated with the gloves the whole time he had them on. Connor mentioned that the way he was twisting his wrists in the gloves was the same thing that Ovi does when he wants new gloves on the bench, ha!

And finally, we saw Joel Ward. Most of you must know by now that my husband's name is also Joel Ward and we all have Ward jerseys. My older son Benny and I first met "hockey Joel" at the Caps convention back in September and he was so great to us then. Now, Zachary has gotten to meet him too, so we need to figure out a way to get the two Joels to meet!

Those of you who know me well know that I don't usually ask for autographs for myself. I would rather the boys get the chance to collect them. But in this case, I made an exception and had Joel autograph my Ward jersey. I just couldn't pass up the chance!

The event was winding down at this point, so we took a few more laps and then left the ice. Zachary would have stayed out there all day though, if he was allowed to.

On our way out, we got a chance to say good-bye to our favorite Caps pup Ovie the Bulldog, who is moving to California soon. We'll miss seeing you outside practices and games, buddy!

It was a really fun day and I couldn't be more thankful to the Dreams for Kids organization and the Washington Capitals, whose community and philanthropic outreach is second to none. I'm proud to be a fan.

To see all the photos I took today, please check out my Google photos. All photos are copyrighted by me and may not be re-used without permission.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hockey n Heels 11/13/13

This was my third time at a Caps Hockey n Heels event (read about the other events here and here). It was a little more disorganized this year, and I don't think it was as well attended. It was a little more expensive this time, because they included a ticket to an upcoming game. I would estimate that there were about 150 women in attendance. It was still a great time, though, and as always, the interactions with the players and coaching staff were the best part.

Like last time, I attended with friends and fellow die-hard fans Catherine, Kristin, and Janet.

We started our evening by learning how to pass the puck with defenseman Alex Urbom. Since it was my third time at an event like this, I wasn't as nervous when taking part in the on-ice portion, but I still needed some help remembering the proper form. We each got a few minutes to practice passing, which was nice. We didn't feel rushed at all.

After the passing station, we headed over to get our picture taken with defenseman Karl Alzner. Needless to say, there was a lot of talk about his awesome mustache. (And if you haven't donated to the Movember campaign, here's the Caps team page.)

Next, we learned proper face-off technique from coach Blaine Forsythe. I found this to be the most challenging of the stations, but it's fun to try. I am always impressed that the players are able to do this on skates and with full padding.

The last on-ice station was shooting the puck with former Caps player Alan May, defenseman Steve Oleksy, and rookie forward Tom Wilson. Each time I do this, I get better, but I'm still not very confident. I appreciate the time that Oleksy took in helping me. I was able to get the puck into the net each time I shot it, which is definitely an improvement!

After the on-ice portion of the event, we headed upstairs for some light refreshements: drinks, sandwiches, salads, and the cutest little cupcakes.

Then it was time for video coach Brett Leonhardt's demonstration. Like last time, he talked about how he tracks the games on video live during the games. It amazes me that he is able to tag more than 600 events (such as forechecking, face-offs in all three zones, goals scored and against, power plays/penalty kills, etc) in real time as the game is being played. He showed us how he makes video packages to show individual players or the team as a whole, both for in-game and the next day. He also talked a little bit about the team's strategy on the forecheck and during break-outs, but I won't divulge the specifics here. :)

Next, we listened to a Q&A with former goalie and current goalie coach Olie Kolzig, moderated by Alan May. It was a very lively discussion that touched on memories from their playing days; their opinions on fighting, equipment, and rules; and their ideas for changes to the NHL, such as getting rid of the shoot-out or changing the way points are awarded; increasing the size of the ice; and changing the refereeing. They didn't hold anything back and answered everyone's questions. Olie was one of my favorite players, so it was cool to see him.

Our final stop of the evening was the locker room at Kettler. Even though I've been in there before, it's still fun to see all of the equipment set up for the next day's practice. This time, equipment manager Brock Myles talked about the players' helmets and also showed us how he labels every piece of clothing that the players wear. He compared it to labeling kids' stuff for school, ha! And I learned a new word "tuque", which is evidently what Canadians call a knit cap. :)

All in all, it was a great evening. As I've said before, I really appreciate what the Caps organization does for its fans. And the players and coaches are truly class acts; I've never had a bad interaction with any of them.

You can see all of my photos from the evening here. All photos are copyrighted by me and may not be republished without permission. Thanks for reading!