WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday night, the US Hockey Hall of Fame enshrined its five newest honorees in a ceremony held in downtown Washington DC. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, former NHL players Brian Gionta and Tim Thomas, Olympian Krissy Wendell, and community leader Neal Henderson were recognized as the US HHOF’s Class of 2019.
The night celebrated the achievements and storied journeys of the honorees, but also shone a spotlight on the growth of hockey in DC, whether it be from the efforts of Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals or legendary coach Henderson, co-founder of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club.
Ovechkin was the recipient of the Wayne Gretzky International Award, which honors “international individuals who have made major contributions to the growth and advancement” of hockey in the US. From his charismatic personality to his goal-scoring success on the ice, Ovechkin is a big reason behind the growth of youth hockey participation in the DMV. Ovechkin also takes it a step further, taking pride in spending time with kids from American Special Hockey Association every year.
Ovechkin himself was not in attendance at the ceremony; he was instead on the road with his teammates in Tampa Bay. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis accepted the award on his behalf. Leonsis told a story about asking Ovechkin where he wanted to bring the Stanley Cup when the Capitals won in 2018.
“He said, ‘I want to go see the kids in Georgetown Cancer Center’ and we went there, and he wanted to go pay homage to Coach Neal and we went to Fort Dupont,” Leonsis said.
Neal Henderson received a standing ovation at Capital One Arena the previous night where he was honored with the ceremonial puck drop before the Capitals faced the Bruins on Wednesday night.
Henderson has had an indelible impact on youth hockey in DC, from the time he created Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club in the late 1970s, to his 40 years of coaching the Cannons and shaping the many young players that developed in his teams. Fort Dupont Ice Arena is the only public indoor ice arena located in Washington, DC, and the only skating facility in the area that provides free or subsidized skating programs to children.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, a fellow Hall of Fame inductee, said in his speech that Henderson’s work was the embodiment of the “Hockey is For Everyone” motto. In Henderson’s own speech, the legendary coach told the story of learning sign language so that he could coach a player that was deaf and mute.
“I was working with children for the love of the children,” Henderson said in a Q&A with the US HHOF, “And seeing them progress and have the opportunity to see a game that they saw on TV, or came to the rink and saw, but maybe thought were not able to do it. And, after they found out they could have that opportunity, they took advantage of it and became successful at it.”
For more than 40 years, Neal Henderson has used hockey to provide lifelong lessons to inner-city youth in America.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) December 13, 2019
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