Wounded warriors, many who received care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), recently competed in the third annual USA Hockey Sled Classic presented by the National Hockey League (NHL) in Buffalo, N.Y.
This year’s USA Hockey Sled Classic featured 14 teams, two divisions and 12 NHL affiliations. The USA Warriors, including wounded warriors from WRNMMC, represented the Washington Capitals. The Veterans Day weekend competition culminated with championship games on Nov. 11.
In the “A” Division, the Dallas Stars took home the title by beating the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, while the Washington Capitals defeated the Carolina Hurricanes by a 6-0 count to earn the “B” Division crown. Other NHL clubs that sponsored teams included the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Walter Reed Bethesda and the USA Warriors ice hockey program uses hockey to help wounded warriors rehabilitate physically and emotionally, according to Tiffany S. Smith, a certified therapeutic recreation specialist at WRNMMC.
“Recreation therapy is an extension of wounded warriors rehabilitation plan through Occupational and Physical Therapy,” Smith explained. “Therapeutic recreation provides wounded warriors the opportunity to increase independency, cognitive abilities, physical capabilities and work on social skills. Everything wounded warriors have learned and trained for under their clinical therapist in the hospital setting, are being transferred to an adaptive sports activity outside the clinic.”
“It means a lot,” said Navy SEAL Bo Reichenbach, 24, about competing in the USA Hockey Sled Classic. He was injured by an improvised explosive device in July while serving in Afghanistan, and both of his legs were amputated above the knees. He is undergoing rehabilitation at WRNMMC.
“We’re all thankful to be here, and we love the game,” Reichenbach added about sled hockey. “It’s awesome,” said the Sailor who explained his younger brother has inspired him to play. “I got to compete with him. I can’t let him be the best.”
Army Spc. Tim Hall also spoke of sled hockey benefits. “It got me back out of bed and being active again,” said the Soldier who lost his legs during a mortar attack on June 10, 2010, in Afghanistan. “[Sled hockey] showed me I can do a lot of other sports, too. I’m still active in sports. I just do them a different way.”
Hall’s teammate, Christy Gardner, said the ice helps level the playing field for wounded warriors in sled hockey. Gardner was injured in 2006 while serving with the Army in Korea. She suffered a direct hit to her forehead resulting in a skull fracture, which affected the frontal and temporal lobes in her brain. In her recovery, she had difficulty walking, and speaking, while suffering from memory loss and seizures.
Gardner, who is also a member of the U.S. women’s national sled hockey team, explained the sport gives her an opportunity to see what she can do, rather than what she may be no longer able to do.
Mike Murphy, also a veteran, competed on the Boston Bruin sled team. He said there’s a bond among the players, especially those who served their country in uniform. “Some of the vets on my team, I’d bend over backwards to give them a helping hand because that’s what it was like in the service you’re there to support each other; you’re there to make each other a better unit. Now, we are part of another team.”
The Washington Capitals/USA Warriors finished with a perfect 5-0 record in the USA Hockey Sled Classic, held during the Veterans Day weekend because of the number of wounded warriors on the teams, according to Thom Hirsch, president of USA Warriors Hockey.
“The team had a combination of the lead scoring line, a balance of other scoring, a strong shutdown line, strong and physical defenders and a top-notch goalie that prevailed,” said Hirsch.
“The team won all five of its games, had 36 goals and gave up only three goals and won the B Division Championship,” Hirsch added. “Josh Misiewicz, the team's captain, was the leading scorer in both the A and B Divisions with 21 goals and five assists, and every other player on the team but the goalie scored. Tim Hall was the second leading scorer in the B Division with five goals and five assists. Tim was the weekend's honorary captain in recognition of his upcoming return home to Nevada after recovering at Walter Reed [Bethesda] for over two years.
“Skip Robson, Christy Gardner, Jason Kreczmer and Justin Mills also scored while shutting down the opposition with aggressive fore-checking and back-checking,” Hirsch continued. “In most games, the puck was in the other team's end a very large part of the game. The physical play of defensemen of Sean Karpf, Jeremy Kuehl and Andrew Wilson kept the onrushing players of the other teams off to the sides and out of the slot area, with terrific angling and hard sled checks that wore the other teams down. The Warriors goalie, Bo Reichenbach, turned aside nearly all of the few shots that he faced.”
“It was a great weekend of hockey and camaraderie. We are all very grateful for the service and sacrifice to our nation that these great young men and women have made," Hirsch said.
For more information about the therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports programs at WRNMMC, call 301-295-8525.