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Sled hockey brightens veteran's life

Retired Marine Khachadurian, who lost both legs in combat, finds passion, purpose and thrill of competition as member of USA Warriors

by Jon Lane @JonLaneNHL / Staff Writer

Growing up in Miami before serving with the United States Marines, Kevork "Khach" Khachadurian was foreign to the game of hockey. never having skated on a sheet of ice.

He never could foresee that hockey would ultimately provide him a new outlook on life..

Cpl. Khachadurian was on a three-day mission as an infantry rifleman with the Fifth Marine Division on Aug. 15, 2011, when he lost his legs stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED). Three months after having many surgeries at Walter Reed Medical Center, "Khach" started physical therapy and began walking on prosthetics.

That's when he was introduced to sled hockey.

"It started as recreational therapy to get out and do something," Khachadurian said. "We just made it a team out of that. It used to be a couple of us and we came a long way."

A member of USA Warriors since 2012, Khachadurian's next on-ice adventure will be against Soldier On from the Canadian military in the NHL Sled Series at Bowie Ice Rinks in Bowie, Maryland at 11:30 a.m. on Friday. The game will precede the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series when the Washington Capitals play the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVAS, NHL.TV).

"Being a Marine who got injured and lost both of his legs, it gives me a sense of being active," Khachadurian said. "I love the sport. You still have the feeling you can still go fast. I used to run a lot when I was in the Marines and used to love going fast. Just having that ability to still go fast on the sleds, I just love that feeling.

"I've been part of [USA Warriors] for five years and appreciate the NHL recognizing us and how far we've come after years of the program developing."

Getting used to the game took time for Khachadurian, whose biggest challenge is keeping his balance on the ice.

"In the beginning, it was pretty hard because you have to make sure to even your weight out on two thin blades," Khachadurian said. "I also tried monoskiing and related it after that balance wise. In monoskiing, you have to do the same hip-thrust and move your hips to move around." 

USA Warriors' mission is to encourage the formation of programs locally and nataionally, giving veterans with physical disabilities the opportunity to compete. Khachadurian enjoys the physicality, competition and camaraderie of playing hockey, relating it to the teamwork and unity he experienced in the military..

"I mean, he's a grade-A person," USA Warriors captain Kevin Gatson said. "He's someone who, on the ice, he's definitely one of our better players and someone I look to produce on the ice. At the same time, he's one of the great guys off the ice, too."

Now medically retired, Khachadurian works as a veterans service representative in the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, where he helps other veterans get a new lease on life. Hockey has helped do that for Khachadurian.

"I love playing," he said. "I love being physical with it and look forward to being out there again. I haven't played in a while. We haven't played in a while. I'm just excited to get out there playing again and hitting."

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