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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres Foundation, Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association & National Fuel have joined together with the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System to provide recreational on-ice services to local veterans using sled hockey and traditional stand-up hockey as a driving force for physical and emotional rehabilitation. The two new teams will be called Buffalo Sabres Sled Vets and the Buffalo Sabres Warriors.

The three organizations –Buffalo Sabres Foundation, Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association and the National Fuel Gas Company Foundation – have committed a total of $90,000 per year for the next three years to support the program.  The funding will pay for equipment, uniforms and ice time, as well as tournament and travel costs.

The partnership is a culmination of a relationship that started in the fall of 2011, when a free hockey clinic – open to any disabled veterans in the area – was held at Riverside Ice Rink. The first clinic, run by Norm Page of USA Sled Hockey and Hasek’s Heroes, drew 15 veterans who experienced sled hockey for the first time. 

Since then, more than 75 veterans have participated in eight on-ice clinics.  Next month, 26 veterans from the program will participate in the USA Disabled Hockey Festival in Dallas from April 13-15.

“We are so fortunate in Western New York to have the support from the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Sabres Foundation, and National Fuel to provide this recreation therapy sport for Veterans,” said Brian G. Stiller, medical center director.  “As a veteran health care provider it is so heartening to know that this show of support exemplifies our Buffalo commitment to our nation, service members and veterans.”

The program is a new addition to the sports offered through the VA Hospital recreation therapy program and is designed to build confidence, help with readjustment and physical fitness and improve their quality of life through mind and body. The veterans participating in the on-ice program range in age from early 20s to late 60s and may have physical or other disabilities. 

“We are thrilled to join together with our Sabres Alumni Association and National Fuel to support this very important program for the local heroes who have so bravely served our country in many parts of the world for decades,” said Cliff Benson, Buffalo Sabres Chief Development Officer and President of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation. “The object of our involvement is to provide funding and awareness for the program so we can make this opportunity available to as many veterans as possible in our community,” Benson added.

 “Ideally, we hope other markets throughout the country will take notice and begin to develop these programs in their own communities.”

The Sabres Alumni Association and National Fuel were quick to recognize the value and impact of the program.

“At National Fuel, we have built a long-standing tradition of extending a hand to those who need help and a top priority are the brave men and women who have served in the U.S. Military,” said David F. Smith, Chairman & CEO of National Fuel Gas Company.  “Too often, service members return home to enormous family and social pressures that, while different in nature, are as challenging as those they faced abroad.”

“We are proud to partner with the Buffalo Sabres, the Sabres Alumni Association, the VA Western New York Health Care System and the USA Sled Hockey Team to make the Sabres Sled Vet and Warrior teams a reality,” Smith continued. “Our returned veterans have unconditionally risked their safety and well-being to defend our freedom and protect our country and they need our commitment and thanks for their efforts.  If their time on the ice as a member of these teams makes a difference in their day, our investment is well worth it.”

Rob Ray, Buffalo Sabres Alumni Association President, added, “It is an honor to be involved with this group of individuals.  They deserve the opportunity to be able to compete on the ice, to be a part of a team and we couldn’t be happier about lending our support.”

The program is open to all individuals who served in the military and currently reside in Western New York. With the continued growth of the program, plans are underway to create different teams based on level of ability and an anticipated full schedule of practices and games during the 2012-13 hockey season. 

For more information on how to become involved with or to support the Buffalo Sabres Sled Vets program, please contact Pam Kaznowski of the VA Western New York Health Care System at 716-862-6814 or via email:   

The mission of the Buffalo Sabres Foundation is to stimulate, support and encourage organizations that serve Western new York which are committed to youth hockey initiatives; the health, wellness and education of underprivileged/disadvantaged youth and military personnel; and the physically and mentally challenged athlete, by providing financial generosity and other platforms for their endeavors. Through such support, these organizations will realize their highest potential, thereby allowing their members to gain the confidence and integrity necessary to succeed in life.

National Fuel is an integrated energy company with $5.7 billion in assets comprised of the following four operating segments: Exploration and Production, Pipeline and Storage, Utility, and Energy Marketing. The National Fuel Gas Company Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation funded entirely by the shareholders of National Fuel Gas Company.

VA Western New York Healthcare System provided care to over 42,000 veterans last year at sites located in Buffalo, Batavia and community based clinics in Dunkirk, Jamestown, Olean, Niagara Falls, Lockport, Lackawanna and a satellite site in Springville.
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