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Hockey Is For Everyone

Clint Malarchuk hits ice with USA Warriors

As part of Hockey Is For Everyone month, former NHL goaltender uses game to help wounded veterans

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Clint Malarchuk arrived at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Saturday not expecting to play in a game.

The 55-year-old former goaltender, who played 10 NHL seasons for the Quebec Nordiques, Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres, was there to help lead a Hockey Is For Everyone month event with members of the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program.

"They said come out and do some drills or whatever," Malarchuk said. "Then, I saw that referee and I said, 'Why don't you come out and we'll have a scrimmage and it will probably be more fun for them?'"

About 15 minutes into the scrimmage, Malarchuk decided to join one of the teams and take a regular shift on defense, using a borrowed stick and a set of gloves belonging to Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie (who was on the road facing the Montreal Canadiens).

"It ended up being a good time," Malarchuk said. "It was a lot of fun."

Having fun and the spirit of inclusion are paramount parts of the NHL's Hockey Is For Everyone initiative and the USA Warriors program. The USA Warriors' objective is to use hockey to provide a recreational and therapeutic experience for wounded veterans. 

"It's hard to explain to other people that don't understand, being in the military or not," said retired U.S. Army Sgt. Rafael Delgado, who was wounded while serving in Iraq. "We have stigma of, 'Don't go near that guy. He's got problems.' When you're in the locker room and on the ice, it's not there. That's what it means. It's healing through hockey."

The USA Warriors practice once a week and play in occasional games and charity events.

"I love playing with these guys," said Jane Polcen, a retired U.S. Army major. "I'm a woman, I'm small, but out there they take care of you. Nobody's out playing too hard, trying to check one another. We play hard but we play fair." 

Malarchuk was there to share his story about dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from an incident on March 22, 1989, when a skate blade sliced his carotid artery and jugular vein while he was playing in a game for the Sabres. But the USA Warriors players were happy to have Malarchuk on the ice with them.

"I got to play defense with him," Polcen said. "That was just awesome. He's a hockey player, so we're sitting on the bench talking and he's like a regular guy."

Malarchuk said some of the USA Warriors began to open up to him about their experiences during the game.

"I had a couple of them come up already and share a little with me because of my history with PTSD," he said. "Playing with these guys one thing I noticed is some are brand new to hockey but they all pass and that's the military background of teamwork. So we have the commonalities of team with the sport of hockey and with the military and what they do."

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