Flyers Warriors hockey making difference for wounded military veterans
New program helping players build camaraderie on, off iceby Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Rick Stabeno was a Marine Corps veteran and Philadelphia Flyers fan interested in playing ice hockey when he reached out to the Flyers about a year ago.
From that phone call the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors Hockey Team was created; the team opened its first training camp at Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone on Saturday.
The program has 90 players split into two teams and will play its first exhibition game of the season against the Pittsburgh Warriors at 2:30 p.m. ET at Wells Fargo Center on Monday.
The Warriors also will play in the USA Hockey Warrior Classic in Las Vegas from Oct. 3-6.
"This is full fruition now," Stabeno said. "We're now finally in an environment where we're ready to go compete."
The first day of camp included fitness testing in the same facility the Flyers use, and the players receiving their jerseys from Hockey Hall of Fame member Bob Clarke.
"This is absolutely a dream come true," Warriors captain Jim Young said. "I'm on Cloud 9. It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing."
Every player in the Warrior program has a minimum 10 percent disability. But the camaraderie of being part of a team has helped them put those issues to the side for a bit.
"Even though I worked with hundreds of other Marines, I taught thousands of Marines, the ones that I really were impacted with by were the first ones I was with, my combat Marines," Stabeno said. "And this is the closest thing I've had, even while I was in the Marine Corps, since that feeling."
The team also has helped veterans who need help to feel able to ask for it.
"This has been an outlet for a lot of guys," Stabeno said. "A lot of guys who are afraid of therapy now are talking other guys who've been in intense therapy for some years who are willing to reach out and do it. There's a lot of guys who aren't familiar with how the VA (Veterans Administration) works in detail. ... So we have a lot of guys who are very embedded with the veteran community who now help put them a step forward and understanding where they can go and what their outlet is."
The Warrior hockey program was started with a $50,000 donation in February as part of the NHL Stadium Series legacy project. The money covered the initial costs of equipment and ice time for the players, but what's grown the program since then is how the Flyers have taken a hands-on role in its development. Flyers alums Brad Marsh and Bob Kelly are coaching the team, and the organization is giving support in other ways.
"They're also teaching us how to train and be self-sustaining as well," Stabeno said. "You have alumni on the ice with us every single week, training us, teaching us. It's kind of like a fantasy camp every single week.
"As people see it helping, as people are joining and then they're telling their friends how much it's helping, and then they're seeing it in the public eye. It's been the best platform for the veteran community I've seen locally."