Mission Statement. Special Hockey Northern Virginia exists for the enrichment of the athlete with a developmental disability. In addition to physical hockey skills, the program emphasizes the development of desirable individuals.
Tommy Nystrom, 12, poses for a photo with Jeff Halpern after receiving an autograph from the former Capitals center.
Jeff Halpern may no longer be a member of the Capitals, but from the cheers he received inside Kettler Capitals Iceplex last week you’d never know it.
Halpern spent his mornings last week skating with former teammates at the Capitals’ training complex.
After each of those informal workouts, Halpern took time to chat with players from the Cool Cats, a hockey team for kids with special needs that conducted a weeklong camp at Kettler.
“He’s such a nice guy,” said Lisa Gasparott of Alexandria, whose 16-year-old son, Sami, plays on the Cool Cats. “On Tuesday Jeff got on the ice and did some drills with the kids. Then he asked if he could come in and give out autographs.
“Some of the kids don’t know him, but to other kids he’s their idol.”
Randy Brawley of Sterling started the Cool Cats program in 2004 after refereeing a hockey tournament for special needs players in Laurel, Md. Since then his program has grown to two teams and 50 players, ranging in age from 5 to 28.
“The reward I get from this is off the charts,” said Brawley, whose 18-year-old son, Scott, is autistic. “When I sit back in my rocking chair someday I’ll remember the social aspects of this. My son actually got his best friend out of this. That means more to me than winning or losing any game.”
Gasparott said several Capitals have visited with the Cool Cats over the years, including Mike Knuble, Eric Fehr and John Erskine.
“It may not be a whole lot to them,” she said, “but it means the world to these kids.”