Less than one calendar year from their first skating session and hockey clinic -- and less than seven month from their official creation in conjunction with the Flyers and the National Hockey League -- the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors are champions.
On Sunday in Las Vegas, the Flyers Warriors erased three separate one-goal deficits to defeat the Carolina Warriors, 7-3, in the lower-division finals of the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic tournament in Las Vegas. Defenseman Nick Pidge led the way offensively, recording a hat trick.
The Flyers Warriors, who have yet to lose a game since their creation, finished the tournament with a perfect 5-0-0 record over the three-day event.
"I couldn't be prouder of our team and the growth of our program in such a short period of time. From a hockey standpoint, the team has really come together. They were ready for this tournament -- they knew they have something special going. And for the players and their families, it's really become a brotherhood. It's been so rewarding to be part of it," said Flyers Warriors head coach Brad Marsh.
"Also, let's face it, winning is fun. Our team is a winner. In terms of how fast the team has grown, we actually have enough players now to have sent two teams -- and that's even with the team we sent having five lines. Back in Philly, while we were in the tournament, there were 15 other Warriors holding practice, because they didn't want to give up the ice [time]. Just in the last couple weeks, we've added four new players."
USA Hockey affiliated Warrior teams from across the United States, including many that have varying degrees of NHL team affiliations, participated in the tourney. In order to participate in USA Warrior Hockey, players must be veterans of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces and have at least a 10 percent disability.
In the first game of the tournament, the Flyers Warriors found themselves training 2-0 early to the Iowa Warriors. It was a new experience for the Philly team, because they'd never previously trailed in any game.
"Our players came out trying to do a little too much. Falling behind was a new challenge for the boys, and the emotions were running high on the bench -- probably a little too high. We had to regroup and realize there was still a lot of hockey to be played and it was still anybody's game. We had to get our emotions in check, and get to playing the way we can play; with purpose and a lot of energy. Once we did that, we were fine," head coach Brad Marsh said.
Once the Flyers Warriors regrouped, the team took over the game. Six unanswered goals later, and the Flyers skated off with a 6-2 victory. Later that day, the Flyers Warriors ran into a hot goalie on the Nebraska Warriors side but dominated territorially and went on the claim a 3-1 win.
Prior to Day 2 of the tournament, the Flyers Warriors held a team meeting at the squad's hotel, conducted by head coach Marsh and assistant coach Rob Baer. Apart from discussing a few technical areas where there was opportunity for improvement, the primary theme of the session was maintaining team unity and support of the team unit.
The team responded with a 9-1 blowout of the DC Beltway Warriors on Saturday afternoon to complete the round-robin with a perfect 3-0-0 record. Five hours later, the Flyers Warriors played the Colorado Avalanche Warriors in the semifinals. Philly prevailed, 9-4, to earn a trip to the bracket championship game on Sunday; held at the First National Arena, the training home of the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights.
Prior to Sunday's game, Flyers Alumni goaltender Mike McKenna -- recently retired from playing and now a Golden Knights broadcaster -- stopped by the Flyers Warriors locker room to show his support. Another Flyers alum, Vegas assistant coach Ryan McGill, stopped over after Vegas' practice on the other rink to watch part of the championship game before a team meeting.
The tournament was presented and hosted by famed entertainer (second two America's Got Talent winner) and long-time Las Vegas show headliner Terry Fator. Before the tournament began, Fator brought the Warriors to see his show at the Mirage Hotel and Casino. After the first day of competition, Fator hosted a private players-only reception at First National Arena.
"This tournament means a lot to me, because I've seen the impact that USA Hockey's Warrior program has on our veterans community," Fator said.
"The program has grown across the country, and the rate of growth is expanding very fast now, which is wonderful to see. To me, being the presenter of the tournament is just a way of giving something back and thanking our veterans for their service and their sacrifices."