Jason Brandle was on the bench in anticipation on Wednesday evening, lacing up his skates for the first time in 30 years and looking forward to playing a little puck.

“I’m super excited. Twenty-three years in the army, and my wife still told me to be careful,” Brandle said with a smile.

Military veterans and active service members took the ice for Wednesday’s Try Hockey for Free event in partnership with Easterseals New York, alongside members of the Long Island Warriors Hockey Team and Islanders Alum Dennis Seidenberg.

The former Isles defenseman was ready and excited to help, teaching some basic skills on the ice, sharing laughs with the vets and watching them bond with one another.

“It's always nice coming out for guys that are trying out hockey to see if they like it and just take their mind off their daily lives,” Seidenberg said. “They all seemed to have fun and really enjoy it. I think they’re all going to come back.”

Not only did the participants have the pro expertise of Seidenberg, but they were also welcomed with open arms by the Warriors, a non-profit, volunteer driven ice hockey team for veterans on Long Island. Jeremy Feldman, CEO of the Warriors, explained that it takes one positive experience on the ice to inspire deeper involvement, as the program creates a special community for service men and women.

“We have guys on our team that have never played before [joining] and are now scoring goals,” Feldman said. “You can see their faces light up, just how much this team means to them.”

Because of their service and dedication, members of the military share an innate connection with each other centered around respect. As soon as he stepped into Northwell Heath Ice Center, Brandle recognized a familiar face - and voice - immediately identifying someone he served with overseas.

“He was in my unit in Iraq, so I’ll say hello to him,” Brandle said before taking the ice. “He has a very distinct voice too, as soon as I heard it, I was sure it was him.”

The two were reunited and bonded with each other and the group at large on the ice, enjoying the session, though the generosity of the Islanders and Easterseals New York.

“They’re used to the camaraderie in the army and the military, I think being on a team possibly resembles that in a way,” Seidenberg said. “It's nice to see those guys just feeling that friendship and the joy out there, working on something they want to get better at.”

Joe Acquavita and his 12-year-old son took two trains and two busses to get to the rink on Monday night. The joyful experience on the ice certainly made it worth it for the father-son duo.

“I took full custody of him nine years ago, when he was three years old,” Acquavita said. Besides that, this is probably the most exhilarating thing I’ve had since I left the military. We loved the experience, we had such a great time.”

Playing hockey is a healthy way to work through the negatives of military service, as the high-pressure situations and the physical and mental wounds of experiencing war first-hand can be challenging to continuously cope with. The Warriors aim to provide an outlet for veterans to bond through a healthy activity.

“A lot of us have disabilities from the military, some physical and some mental,” said Feldman. “Getting on the ice, all of it goes away. It’s amazing.”

The Islanders and the Easterseals New York support active-duty military members and veterans through programs like Try Hockey for Free, working toward the goal of making positive differences in people’s lives.

“It's always nice helping out the charities the Islanders are working with,” Seidenberg said. “It’s a great way of giving back and creating a larger fan base. It's always nice helping out and doing something good for the community.”

Easterseals New York provides exceptional services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs and their families have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities. By engaging local organizations and communities, Easterseals New York has worked to connect veterans and military families with what they need for meaningful employment, education and overall wellness since World War II. Learn more about Easterseals New York's military and veteran services here.