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NHL Stadium Series

Wounded veterans take ice for NHL Sled Series

Participate in exhibition game ahead of Stadium Series

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

BOWIE, Md. -- Antoine Lehoux pushed himself across the ice Friday, putting distance between himself and the three opposing players chasing him.

When he reached the face-off circle in the offensive zone, to the right of the goaltender, he cocked his wrist and snapped a rising shot that hit the back of the net before the goalie could even raise his glove.

It was his fifth goal of the afternoon at Bowie Ice Arena for the Soldier On team, which was playing the USA Warriors team in the NHL Sled Series, in conjunction with the 2018 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series between the Washington Capitals and the Toronto Maple Leafs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVAS, NHL.TV).

Video: Sled Series features teams from the USA and Canada

The 8-5 loss to the Warriors could not dampen an enjoyable day on the ice for Lehoux, 24, who has been playing sled hockey for five years.

Lehoux was one of the final three cuts from the Canada team that will compete in the PyeongChang Paralympics from March 8-18.

His performance Friday, and a surprise appearance by the Stanley Cup at the game, did little to salve the disappointment of missing out on the Paralympics, but it was another reminder of the role sled hockey has played in his recovery from having his right leg amputated above the knee.

"Freedom, that's a good word," Lehoux said, describing what he felt on the ice.

Lehoux, of Thetford Mines, Quebec, had his leg crushed at age 19 when the bus he was riding in crashed while his reserve unit of the Canadian Armed Forces was traveling to a Remembrance Day celebration.

Often when Lehoux was on the ice Friday, Rob Easley of the USA Warriors was nearby, crowding him, steering him from the prime shooting areas in the attacking zone. More than once, their sleds crashed together, producing thuds that echoed through the arena.

Easley, 31, is another elite player, having been a member of the U.S. Development Sled Hockey Team. He had stepped away from the game recently to focus returning to school, but couldn't pass up this opportunity to play.

"It's very freeing when you are out there to me," said Easley, who had each of his legs amputated after he stepped on an improvised explosive device while in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army in 2012. "It's hard to even explain. I can get around pretty well now, but when you are out there are not any limitations to the way you move. You can skate all over the place with nothing stopping you. It's just free. Off the ice, you have dudes with metal legs and wheelchairs and everything and they all move differently but out there, they all move the same."

That was the message of the game and the afternoon, said Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president, social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs.

"When you think of the courage it takes to get on the ice when you are full-bodied able, that's a big thing," Davis said. "The speed of the game, the precision and then to look at the other levels of [ability], like sled hockey, not only does it align perfectly with the (NHL and NHL Players' Association's) Declaration of Principles in that we believe in hockey of every kind …

"I think it is pretty amazing what it shows in terms of perseverance, leadership and teamwork, all of those things that make all of these men and women that participate in sled hockey so amazing. We salute them because of their heroism."

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