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Family push in NHL Sled Series

Canadian Armed Forces veteran Kristina Moreau soldiers on in hockey with assist from dad Marcel

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

The experience was eye-opening, life-changing. 

At his daughter Kristina's urging, Marcel Moreau had decided to participate in the Invictus Games last September in Toronto, an international competition for injured and ill soldiers.

Moreau, 69, a former warrant officer in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), played wheelchair rugby and golf in the games, and completely loved it. And he wants to repay the favor.

"Now it's my turn to give back to her," said Moreau.

So Kristina Moreau, a 44-year-old retired captain in the CAF, will be participating for Canada's Soldier On, which will play the USA Warriors in the NHL Sled Series on Friday as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series activities in Annapolis. The Toronto Maple Leafs play the Washington Capitals on Saturday, the first NHL outdoor game at a service academy.

Hockey was never Kristina's sport. She did taekwondo and karate. She played soccer. She skied in high school. But her hockey was limited to playing shinny with her son and watching from the stands when he played. 

Not anymore.

"He encouraged me. Right away," Kristina said of her father. "The Solider On experience was such an excellent program for him to help him. I was actually the one who encouraged him to do it and then it was an amazing experience. Now he's encouraging me to do it."

Marcel Moreau came to appreciate that he wasn't alone in struggling with physical or mental health problems stemming from the service of his country. The Soldier On program helps inspire recovery, camaraderie and the thrill of competition, and that's what he hopes Kristina and others will experience.

The Moreaus were always a military family. Both of Kristina's parents served in the CAF, and she decided at nine years old she would follow the same career path.

She joined the air cadets at 13. By 17, she had joined the CAF, going to the Royal Military College Saint-Jean, where she had planned to be an air navigator. But height restrictions forced her to switch to nursing, and she was deployed to Bosnia in 2001 for two years to provide humanitarian support during the NATO Peacekeeping Mission.

She also worked with the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. Eventually she went to medical school and became a doctor.

"I was very idealistic, I wanted to serve my country," Moreau said. "I thought being in the military was the best way to do it. Providing humanitarian aid in Bosnia was an amazing experience. It was also very difficult at times. We had some incidents and it was right after 9/11 so we had white powder incidents and a couple other things.

"We did some of the investigations into the rape and torture of victims. It was quite difficult but you think about how you're trying to help people too, right? I think we did a lot of good work."

While in the military, Moreau developed posttraumatic stress disorder, lung disorders from exposures in Bosnia and knee injuries. She also was a victim of rape and assault (#metoo, as she puts it), before being medically released in 2014.

Her physical injuries - including an ACL tear while skiing in a Soldier On program - prevent her from participating in the sports she used to play. But sled hockey seemed like the perfect option - and her father couldn't be more thrilled.

"Both my dad and my son are super excited," she said. "They think it's amazing and there's no way they would let me back out of it if I wanted to."

That was because of her father's experience in the Invictus Games, a remarkable celebration of spirit for injured service members.

"It changes the way you look at people with disabilities because they're so amazing and they do more than a lot of people that have all their physical abilities," Kristina Moreau said. "It changes your mindset to be enabled. It was very inspiring. So I think that's why I signed I up. I should get back in the game."

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