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Team USA presses Fleming into duty again

Saturday, 02.27.2010 / 8:33 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Team USA presses Fleming into duty again
Once again, Chad Fleming has answered his country's call, this time flying to Vancouver to address Team USA prior to the gold-medal game.
No sooner did the U.S. Olympic Team earn a berth into the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics, was U.S. Army Ranger Captain Chad Fleming called back into duty as a motivating force for those players and coaches in Vancouver.

After arriving in Seattle from Washington D.C. Saturday morning, Fleming rented a car and began the 125-mile trek to Vancouver in order to serve his countrymen -- yet again. Heck, a 125-mile car ride is nothing compared to what Fleming has been through.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that he got the phone call either -- he's been a regular speaker within the Team USA dressing room since orientation camp in August. There was no way he was missing this opportunity.

Following Friday's 6-1 victory over Finland in the tournament semifinals, Team USA General Manager Brian Burke and USA Hockey's Assistant Executive Director Jim Johannson contacted Fleming and Operation Homefront Chairman Rob Wolford and invited them to the team's private dinner on Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET).

"I just know they need me, so I have to get there," Fleming told NHL.com at the time he was some 60 miles from his destination in Vancouver.

Fleming has been wounded in combat on three separate occasions after six deployments to Iraq and has undergone 20 surgeries, including the amputation of his left leg below the knee. In spite of the wounds, Fleming has completed 5K-runs, triathlons and even the 2009 New York City Marathon with a prosthetic leg.

One would expect the Team USA managerial staff to ask Fleming to offer his usual words of wisdom and encouragement that have undoubtedly given the Americans added incentive during these Winter Olympics. Whether that speech is given Saturday night or in the dressing room before the team faces off against Team Canada with the gold medal on the line Sunday remains to be seen.

"I've been thinking about (what I might say) to the team," Fleming said. "Once I get there and see the atmosphere and see the guys, I'm sure it'll probably change and come to me. But basically they have an opportunity to make history. You can never be forgotten as an Olympic gold medalist."

Fleming is a participant in Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that supports wounded veterans. Each wounded soldier was partnered with one of the 23 members of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Fleming is sponsoring Team USA captain Jamie Langenbrunner.

"They're a great bunch of guys," Fleming said of the U.S. players. "I've been around lots of professional athletes but no other professional athlete is like a hockey player. The hockey players are down to earth, small-town Americans who are patriotic, love their country and appreciate what you do. And they're not afraid to tell you that."

"I've been thinking about (what I might say) to the team. Once I get there and see the atmosphere and see the guys, I'm sure it'll probably change and come to me. But basically they have an opportunity to make history. You can never be forgotten as an Olympic gold medalist." -- U.S. Army Captain Chad Fleming
Fleming, 36, is happy he'll be joined by Wolford, the architect behind Operation Homefront.

"Rob Wolford is a successful businessman in Southern California who has no military background, but felt in his heart that he wanted to give to the people that allowed him and his family to live the way they do," Fleming said. "Operation Homefront is comprised of a lot of great civilians who are giving their time, money and effort to take care of the people who allow them to live the way they do in this country. It's heartwarming to know that myself and other soldiers can go and serve and then return home knowing there's going to be that support and people who care about you and will help you."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale