While the National Hockey League's Philadelphia Flyers open training camp this weekend and prepare for Monday's preseason opener against the New York Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center, the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors -- a team of injured and disabled veterans from any branch of the U.S. military -- will be simultaneously preparing at the Skate Zone in Voorhees for their own exhibition game on Monday against the Pittsburgh Warriors.
The Flyers Warriors vs. Pittsburgh Warriors game is at 2:30 p.m., and is free to attend. During the first intermission of the Flyers vs. Islanders game, winners of the Flyers Warriors' fundraising raffle will be announced. The grand prize is a pair of lower-level Flyers season tickets, the second prize is a suite for a Flyers home game, third prize is an autographed Claude Giroux jersey, fourth prize is an autographed Carter Hart jersey and fifth prize is four tickets to a Flyers game.
Just as with the two-time defending North American champion Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay power wheelchair hockey team, the brand new Flyers Warrior Hockey Team is an official affiliate of the Flyers organization. The team was officially launched in a ceremony in the Flyers' locker room on Feb. 21, 2019 during the lead-up to the 2019 Stadium Series.
The Flyers and the National Hockey League jointly presented a $50,000 check to the Flyers Warriors that day. The funds were seed money to support the team's launch, helping defray costs for equipment, uniforms and ice time in rinks around the Philadelphia area. In so doing, the Flyers Warriors became the 11th team to work in partnership with the USA Hockey's Warrior Hockey program. The other teams include the Blackhawks Warriors Vets, Buffalo Warriors, Capital Beltway Warriors, Challenge Alaska Warrior, Dallas Warriors Hockey, Michigan Warriors, MN Disabled Warriors, Motor City (Detroit), Peoria Iron Sights, and Pittsburgh Warriors.
The Warriors are coached by Brad Marsh, the Flyers director of community relations and the president of the Flyers Alumni Association. Also deeply involved with the team and its launch are youth and amateur hockey program director Rob Baer and hockey ambassador Bob "the Hound" Kelly.
"Marshy gives us his all as a coach and an advocate for our team and our mission," said Warriors right winger Ed McEvoy, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the Gulf War. "He knows when to push you, to bust your chops a little bit, and when to encourage you. I think we are well-prepared to play, and I can't say enough about how great they've been."
Added defenseman Rick Stabeno, a fellow Marine veteran, "The Flyers have been awesome in their support, especially Rob, Marshy and the Hound. It means so much to every one of us. I don't even have words to describe it."
Stabeno, McEvoy and USMC veteran Jim Young, who was selected as the Flyers Warriors' first captain, were among the early organizers of the team, involved in recruiting skaters and getting them situated with the team. The players, which include veterans not only of the Marines but also the Army, Navy and Air Force, come from a wide variety of hockey backgrounds: some played throughout their youth, others only casually. All are equally welcome on the team.
"Each and every one of us is 100 percent dedicated to the team, and to each other. When we have our practices every weekend, no one wants to miss a session because you feel like you are letting everyone down. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. When you are in the military, you have a support system. You've got each other and military families have each other. When you back into civilian life, it can be a struggle. Our team is like a brotherhood; we all support one another, on the ice and off the ice, too. We're very close knit," McEvoy said.
Young played hockey throughout childhood and adolescence up through his freshman year at Kutztown University. Then 9-11 happened, and McEvoy answered a higher calling to serve his country. He stopped playing hockey for many years but was inspired to start up again by the Warrior Hockey Program.
"It's a full circle. The military took me away from hockey, and now it's brought me back to the game," Young said.
"In terms of the bond on our team, if I could describe it in a single phrase, it's esprit de corps. We're in constant communication. We look forward all week to practice. We hang out together off the ice. We've built a very active Facebook page; the participation is strong. There's also a service component to what we do, because . Ed works with the VA, for example, and he is at the forefront. Myself, I am one of the first face that people see and one of the first voices they talk to to when we've recruited players. was pretty humbled when I was asked to be captain. It really gives every one of us something we get a lot of pride from."
It was Stabeno who made the initial outreach to the Flyers' Baer. He never expected things to come together so dramatically.
"I was looking for a team to join through the USA Hockey Warrior program, and I was a little surprised there wasn't already one in the Philadelphia area. I thought maybe the Flyers could help us, because I know they do a lot in the community. I pitched it as something therapeutic for vets, and a way to promote the game. I asked for a little help with equipment and getting ice time. We've ended up getting a lot more than that, especially from Marshy and Rob and Hound," Stabeno said.
"Last month, the Flyers Alumni had their Fantasy Camp in Atlantic City. Well, Brad not only coached the guys, he also made sure he could be with us, too, for our practice. That's just one example. It means the world to us. We're proud to play for Marshy, to play for each other."
Come Oct. 3 to 6, the Flyers Warriors will be competing in the USA Warrior Classic, which will be held at the Vegas Golden Knights practice facility in Las Vegas. First up, though, is training camp this weekend in Voorhees, which will include physical testing, on-ice work, off-ice chalk talk and some special guest speakers. On Monday, the Flyers Warriors will play their second-ever exhibition game.
Flyers fans are encouraged to attend Monday's free-admission game to root on the Flyers Warriors against their Pittsburgh counterparts, and to support the team through the purchase of the raffle tickets.