As the Caps gathered on Friday for practice, there was something far more important than hockey on the schedule for the day.
As part of the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, the team hosted attendees from Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, Flashes of Hope, Hope for Henry and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network for practice. After practice, each player was paired with a Make-A-Wish participant, all of whom are either battling cancer or in remission.
The players shared smiles and laughs with the participants in the locker room and out on the ice for a skate. It was a day that neither the participants or the players are ever likely to forget.
"It's amazing," Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said. "The hardships that these kids and these parents have to go through on a daily basis and to see a smile on their face brings a lot of pride and a lot of joy that the game that we love and that we have the privilege of doing every day, them meeting us and them skating with us can bring a smile to their face is pretty special and something that we're pretty proud of."
"These are the ones that are pretty cool," defenseman Taylor Chorney said. "Even having a son now, I think it kind of totally changes your perspective on it. I can't even imagine what these parents are going through and what these kids are going through and if you can go out there for even five minutes to put a smile on one of these kids' faces, that's really what it's all about."
Head coach Barry Trotz echoed Chorney's sentiments, saying that these moments mean more to the team now that the players have gotten older and have families of their own.
"Especially with the number of children that have been born in the last two years, our team has grown up and you get to see other families that are dealing with different hardships and you see the parents and the kids. I think it hits home a little bit more with those guys now that you have your own family."
To many, professional athletes are seen as heroes. But it was the players on Friday who were inspired.
"These kids, even though they're all fighting, battling, you can't really break their spirits," Chorney said. "It's pretty cool to see and these are the days that kind of make playing at this level all worth it, to be able to go out there and hang out with the kids."