Several months ago I wrote about the Los Angeles Dodgers and the great support they show for our military. Today I want to tell you about another professional sports organization that supports our military—the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings! At each home game, the Kings honor one local member of the military as the Northrop Grumman Hero of the Game. The honoree and his or her guests (up to three guests for regular-season games and one for playoff games) receive amazing seats in the 100 level of STAPLES Center, as well as dinner at the exclusive Lexus Club before the game. The servicemember is honored at center ice during the National Anthem and on the big screen at his or her seat later in the game.
My husband, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Keith Walters, had the honor of being the Hero of the Game for game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals between the Kings and my beloved team, the New York Rangers. It was a truly memorable experience, and we are so thankful to the Kings and their fans for their hospitality and kindness. I want to say a special “thank you” to Jonathan Anderson, the Kings’ Community and Alumni Relations Assistant, for coordinating the Hero of the Game program and for welcoming us so warmly!
Jonathan had us meet him outside STAPLES Center near the Wayne Gretzky statue. (For a hockey fan, that alone was super cool!) He escorted us into the Lexus Club, where we were welcomed just as warmly as the celebrities probably are. We enjoyed a delicious buffet-style spread of seafood, sushi, meats, salads, desserts, and more.
Since Keith was already wearing his dress blues, several regular club members came over to chat with us and to offer to buy us drinks. It was very kind of them, but a bummer when you’re 6 months pregnant! Keith also did not want to drink while representing the Army in uniform, so we had to politely decline.
The best part of our Lexus Club experience was when former hockey great and longtime Kings player Luc Robitaille—now the president of business operations for the Kings—came over to introduce himself and to thank Keith for his service. He told us proudly that he is now a U.S. citizen and that he really appreciates the military. What a classy and sweet guy, and a huge honor for us to meet him!
Jonathan met us about an hour later and took us down to the concourse from which Keith would enter the ice. I got to hang out there for a great view of the ice during the National Anthem. The announcer welcomed Keith and thanked him for his service, and he got to stand next to The Tenors and salute the flag as they sang the National Anthem. On his way off the ice, he got to shake Wayne Gretzky’s hand. (Gretzky dropped the ceremonial first puck of the game.)
The best part? Keith’s introduction and the anthem were actually televised on NBC, so all of our friends and family got to see it! Our nanny had the twins watch it and videotaped their reactions, which were priceless. The boys have since had me play it for them about 300 times. Matt likes to pretend he is the announcer by using his mini hockey stick as a microphone and saying, “Introducing … DADDY! The greatest hero in the world!” What a great reminder that for all the sacrifices military kids make, they are so lucky because they get to have real heroes as their daddies and/or mommies.
We then got settled into our seats, which were incredible—12 rows from the ice! We sat in the same section as Larry David and Gretzky himself. Will Ferrell was in the section next to us. Most of the fans surrounding us were season-ticket holders who all knew each other, but they were happy to chat with us throughout the game and really made us feel at home.
Keith was honored on the big screen about 15 minutes into the first period. Nearly everyone in the arena stood up to applaud him. In fact, it was so loud in there we could barely hear the announcer reading Keith’s bio. What an incredible feeling! I stood beside Keith and made it to onto the screen myself, much to my six-months-pregnant dismay. They also put us on the kiss cam in the second period. I totally didn’t see that coming, although I certainly should have!
And let’s not forget the game itself: It was a really exciting one, with both teams playing hard. The game went into overtime, and the Kings won 3 to 2 only a few minutes into it. But despite the loss for my Rangers, it was such a fun and extremely memorable evening. I was so proud to see all the fans stopping to talk to Keith, to thank him for his service, and even to take a photo with him. I know so many great servicemembers who deserve to be honored, but I think Keith truly represents them and the U.S. Army well.
So, thank you again to the Los Angeles Kings for being such a classy organization that truly supports our men and women in uniform. It means so much to military families!
To nominate a servicemember to be the Northrop Grumman Hero of the Game at a 2014-15 Kings game, click here!