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Memorable meeting for U.S. Olympic hopefuls

by Corey Masisak

ARLINGTON, Va. -- When Brian Burke spoke of his favorite memory from the 2010 Winter Olympics, it wasn't watching the team he constructed beating Canada in the preliminary round or winning a silver medal.

His favorite memory is when members of the Wounded Warriors program spoke to the United States team. Members of the military who take part in the Wounded Warriors program were able to spend lots of time with the U.S. squad in the lead-up to the 2010 Games and in Vancouver, and it was a memorable part of the experience for players on the team as well.

"The last camp and Olympics they were around with us and it was really special," Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said. "It was great to hear their stories, and they would get us pretty jacked up before the games. When we think we're making sacrifices, it is not even close. It's not even the same stratosphere. We have a great deal of respect for them and what they do.

"It makes it personal. You get to hang out with them and ask so many questions, sit and eat with them, have them come to practice. We are just as interested in what they have done as they are in what we've done. It makes it really cool, and you can make legitimate friendships instead of just saying, 'Hey, thanks for the talk.' It is a great experience and a thrill that USA Hockey does it."

Members of the Wounded Warriors have been here in Northern Virginia during the 2013 U.S. Men's National Team Camp as well. They spent time with the 48 Olympic hopefuls and then participated in a sled hockey game here at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday.

"It was ... phew," Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said of listening to them speak to the players. "It was intense and eye-opening and also just put things in perspective. People talk to us about being heroes, but they are the real heroes. Being able to see them talking to us, and hear them talk about how there are parallels to hockey with how they scheme like us and use some of the same analogies. It was pretty neat to see."

USA Hockey founded the USA Warriors Hockey Program in 2008 to help military veterans who have been disabled during their service have chances to play hockey.

"I've actually been on a sled before playing and it is tough," Howard said. "It is really tough. I used to play in a charity game when I was with Grand Rapids [in the American Hockey League]. It is quite the upper-body workout."


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