Mr. Bettman goes to Washington for charity, veterans

Lawmakers top Lobbyists in sixth annual charity game

The Capitals may have been out of town Wednesday night, but there was no dearth of hockey action in the D.C. Metro area. Federal lawmakers, Congressional staff, administration officials, USA Warriors (an organization that gives injured military veterans a chance to play hockey) players and Canadian Members of Parliament squared off against lobbyists in the sixth annual Congressional Hockey Challenge at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va. The charity game benefitted the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Scholarship. Former Capitals Peter Bondra and Alan May served as ringers for the Lawmakers and Lobbyists, respectively.

Earlier in the day, which was touted as ‘Hockey Day on the Hill,’ NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean, USA Warriors President Dan Coleman and Bauer Performance Sports President and CEO Kevin Davis joined Congressional Hockey Caucus co-chairs Reps. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.), Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.); and members Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) as well as representatives from Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club to discuss the role hockey can play in rehabilitating injured veterans in a panel moderated by NBC News reporter Luke Russert.

“I think there are a couple of benefits (for USA Hockey and the NHL to participate in the event),” Ogrean said. “First of all, these guys are leading our country, the Congressmen. So we are happy to be here and just delighted that they’re in the Congressional Hockey Caucus. I tell people about this in my organization, they can’t believe it. You wouldn’t believe how many of these guys love to play the game.”

It is slightly unbelievable that the House of Representatives has a Congressional Hockey Caucus. It begs the question, what, exactly, is their mission?

“We have a lot of good conversations about growing the game,” Ogrean continued. “Opportunities for minority populations to have access to (hockey), safety and things like that. And then being in Washington, with the presence of the military here, Walter Reed Army Hospital, we have had such a great opportunity to get a lot of the wounded warriors involved in playing our sport…our U.S. Olympic sled hockey team in Sochi now, the Games begin Saturday, we have four wounded warriors on our team. Guys who as part of their rehabilitation and part of their assimilation back into life and enjoying themselves are playing hockey again.”

While the Congressmen were clearly excited to get on the ice for fun, perhaps bragging rights and to raise money for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Scholarship, they expressed sentiments similar to Ogrean’s regarding wounded veterans.

“Hockey, like a lot of sports, is a game that you get involved as a team and the military is very similar,” Bucshon, who started playing hockey 12 years ago at age 40, said. “They’re part of a team and I think getting people out on the ice, even with disabilities, lifts their spirits, gets them back in physical shape. I’m really going to be honored to be on the same ice as these guys.”

Minnesota Congressman Erik Paulsen was quick to point out that he is from the ‘State of Hockey.’

“When you grow up in Minnesota, you grow up skating,” Paulsen said. “I didn’t grow up playing organized hockey, but I grew up playing pond hockey…it’s just engrained in the culture there.”

Paulsen also noted that the collaboration between the Hockey Caucus and the Canadian MPs could continue in the future.

“We’re also talking about doing some exchanges with them down the road and maybe playing up in Ottawa or something to put the attention on the opportunity to raise money for charity, raise awareness and use our leverage for publicity for very important topics,” he said.

In the end, the Lawmakers squad prevailed over the Lobbyists, knotting the annual series at three W’s apiece with a 7-5 win. For participants, though, the final score transcended hockey and was far less important than the meaning of the game.

“This year, having wounded warriors be part of it, I think the idea that you’re out there skating, and the (USA Warriors’ player) on our team lost both of his legs in service to our country. To be out there with him, watching his kind of spirit is inspirational,” Meehan said. “So I’m just proud to become part of something like that.”