From the little boy wearing a Sidney Crosby jersey, to 90-year-old George Bauer, Tri-City American fans came out in full force Tuesday night for a playoff rally at the TRAC in Pasco.
The rally, put together by Hawthorne Court in Kennewick, drew hundreds of fans. The event was a first for the players, some of whom have been with the team for five seasons.
"It goes to show we have great loyal fans," said Tri-City forward Justin Feser. "They will support us through anything -- win or lose, they will be behind us. Kids and babies come to the games, and so do the older people who are dedicated. It's nice to see our rink being filled by fans of all ages."
The U.S. Division champion Americans open the first round of the playoffs Friday against the Everett Silvertips at Toyota Center.
The players got a rousing ovation when they were introduced, then spent more than an hour mugging for pictures with the fans and signing autographs.
Among the crowd was Bauer, who has been an ardent fan for five years.
"Once I got started going, I got excited," Bauer said. "It's a lot of fun. I've been to every game this year, including the preseason."
Bauer said he didn't know anything about hockey before he went to his first game.
"When they said we had a chance to go, I went right away," Bauer said. "I was curious. Once I got started, I couldn't give it up. They come visit us (at Hawthorne Court). I enjoy talking to them, and the ladies enjoying dancing with them."
The annual Sweetheart Dance at Hawthorne Court was the jumping off point for the rally.
"This actually came about because of our relationship with the Americans," said Malaura Bricker, general manager at Hawthorne Court. "This is something nice we could do for the community. It been in the works for months, and with donations for 2nd Harvest, it was a win-win situation."
Bricker, with the help of the Americans staff, secured a venue, a band and enlisted U.S. Cellular to take pictures of the players with the fans. The Columbia-Burbank High School band was the first to reply to Bricker after she sent out invitations to area schools, and it entertained the masses as the fans waited to meet the players.
The Hawthorne Court community has tickets in Section RR at the games, and the tickets never go unused.
"We buy 10 season tickets every year and they are full," Bricker said. "Some of the folks aren't able to be season ticket holders anymore, so we do it for them. Just because they are old, doesn't mean they aren't active."
Mary Munekiyo, who will turn 103 on Friday, hasn't been able to attend the games this year, but she has been a fan for quite some time.
"She was disappointed when Johnny Lazo moved on," Bricker said. "She likes (Brendan) Shinnimin now. She absolutely loves it. She listens to all the game."
Longtime fan Jimmy Butcher sang the National Anthem, then turned to the players and told them if they make it the Memorial Cup he would shave his head, and let the players have the honor.
The Memorial Cup still is a couple of month away. For now, the Silvertips are the first order of business.
"It's an exciting time of year," said Americans forward Jordan Messier. "You get excited for the playoffs and it's great to have everyone come out and support us. We are lucky to have the support of fans of every age."