|Washington Capitals forward Mathieu Perreault rejoices after his team won a scrimmage during a Capital Hockey School assembly at Steuart Weller Elementary School in Ashburn March 11.—Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny|
An array of fourth- and fifth-graders, with a few select third graders, piled onto the bleachers at Steuart W. Weller Elementary School in Ashburn.
After a snow day derailed the Capitals Hockey School assembly scheduled for March 6, the students had to wait five days for a make-up event, scheduled on March 11.
Slapshot, the Washington Capitals mascot, stood in front of the students with several members of the community relations team. Hockey sticks, two nets and bright orange street hockey balls were strewn across the linoleum floor. But something was missing.
Where were the pros?
Despite some errant directions from their GPS navigators, both Michal Neuvirth and Mathieu Perreault delivered. A goalie, Neuvirth sprinted from the parking lot just as activities were set to begin, with teammate and center Perreault arriving a couple minutes later.
Regardless of the slight tardiness, fifth grade teacher Ryan Erin Jeffers was just happy the Caps could come.
Earlier this year, Jeffers submitted her email address for a shot at hosting the “Capitals Hockey School,” a community outreach program sponsored by the hockey club for area fifth through eighth graders.
“It was just signing up and waiting for an email back,” Jeffers said. “Once they emailed, they set up the date, it was instantaneous.”
While the original date was scratched due to inclement weather, the make-up date overlapped with the yearly SOL testing. The Capitals were fortunately able to adjust.
The Caps host two hockey schools a month; last November, another local school, Meadowland Elementary, had the pleasure of hosting two former players for the event.
The formula for the events is pretty simple. First, players offer a brief biography of themselves and their playing experiences before fielding questions from the students. Then, the players demonstrate stickhandling, passing and shooting, selecting kids after every lesson to practice their new skill sets. The assembly concludes with a boys against girls scrimmage. At Weller, the boys earned a narrow 1-0 lead, though it was hard to tell from the smiling faces on both teams.
All participating schools receive a Capitals Partner School banner and all of the equipment used at the event is donated to the physical education department. Students also get autographed photos, a hockey rulebook and a squishy puck.
But Jeffers notes that for many of the kids, the gifts they get are secondary.
“This is beyond exciting. It's making a child's dream,” Jeffers said. “That was my favorite part of the event.”
The players themselves enjoy giving back to the community and at 24- and 25- years old respectively, it wasn't hard for Neuvirth and Perreault to reflect on their own days of idolizing athletes.
“These young kids are looking at us like idols. They want to be like us,” Neuvirth said. “I know when I was a little guy I wanted to be like Dominik Hasek.”
Perreault is steadfast approaching10 Capitals Hockey School appearances, but hopes that it's just the beginning.
“I love it. It's my favorite thing to do, when we do appearances,” Perreault said. “It's easy, its for the kids and I have fun doing it, so it's my favorite one.”
For some of the kids, this just might be their favorite assembly, too.
-All photos by Beverly Denny
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