The weekend of May 19 – 21 brought exceptionally mild spring weather to the Washington, DC area, with low humidity and wonderfully mild temperatures. That mild temperature and low humidity provided perfect conditions for the USA Warriors Hockey Program Sled team to welcome 5 veteran sled hockey teams from around the Nation for a great three day tournament at the Rockville Ice Arena.
On Friday evening the Mountain Warriors, playing out of Ft. Drum, New York, faced off against the host USA Warriors playing out of Rockville, MD, their home rink, about 45 minutes outside Washington, DC. Mountain Warriors put up a tough battle, but the USA Warriors edged out their opponents 5-0. Laurie Wood tallied the game winning goal, and notched an assist. Kevork Khachadurian scored twice and Larry Wood also tallied with a goal and an assist in the win.
Buffalo Warriors played a hard fought match against the Ohio Warriors led by gold medal winning, 3 time US Paralympian Ralph DeQuebec with two goals and three assists, and a shutout performance by goalie Todd Fewell. Ohio defeated Buffalo 6 – 0.
Rounding out the games on Friday evening, the San Antonio Rampage challenged the Idaho Warriors, the newest Warrior Sled hockey team – formed in late 2022, and their first time playing in this tournament. Idaho Warriors Rico Roman, another gold medal winning US Paralympian, along with Sean Sexton and Michael Scherer each had hat-tricks, leading the Idaho team to a 9 – 3 victory, while Jason Pacheo tallied a hat-trick in the loss.
Saturday’s games pitted each team against the two teams they had not yet played in a round robin format, and made for a great, albeit exhausting day of hockey on Saturday.
Sunday’s games featured the top four teams facing off for championship contention. San Antonio and Ohio played a tough fought battle, with Ohio squeaking out a 9-7 victory to put Ohio into the championship.
The USA Warriors played against the Idaho Warriors in a more open ended game with USA Warriors prevailing 10-0 sending them into the championship game and defending their title from last year’s tournament.
Sunday’s championship game pitted the host USA Warriors against the Ohio Warriors, a rematch of Saturday afternoon’s tough bout in which the Ohio Warriors beat the USA Warriors 3-1 in a very tight matchup. Ohio goaltender Todd Fewell turned away 22 of 23 shots on net in a magnificent performance. For Sunday’s Championship game, Bob McDonald, singer for the for the Washington Capitals’ home games, performed an outstanding rendition of the National Anthem to kick off Sunday’s championship game. This second test again pitted the USA Warriors against the Ohio Warriors in a thrilling contest, with the match evenly fought through most of the game. Late in the first period USA Warrior David Noblit split the Ohio defense with a thru pass to USA Warrior Adam Devine, who scored with a blazing shot over Ohio goalie Todd Fewell, putting USA Warriors up 1 -0. After the first goal, Fewell put on a goalkeeping clinic, making spectacular saves and keeping the game tight. Along with their teammates, Clark Cavalier, Laurie Wood and Dave Aagesen of the USA Warriors helped keep the game tight. Ralph DeQuebec and Larry Draughn put constant pressure on the USA Warriors, but hard backchecking and great position play by Paul Hurley and Travis Mulcahy as well as strong saves by USA Warriors goalkeeper Michael Lake kept the USA Warriors in the lead.
Both teams played a gritty, determined and very clean game – there were no penalties throughout the match. USA Warriors maintained their 1 goal lead thru the second period and withstood an Ohio Warrior onslaught most of the third period, until Adam Devine hit wing Kevork Khachadurian across the slot and Kachadurian buried the puck with less than 1 minute left in the game to seal the victory. An exhilarating game absolutely worthy of a championship match!
While all this box score stuff is great, the reality is that every man and woman - Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine or Coast Guardsman who strapped themselves to a sled and played the game is a champion – not in a “everyone gets a trophy” sense, but in the true sense of the word – each and every player has honorably served our great nation, and given of themselves – and each and every one is a hero and a champion in life.
Speaking with players such as Jason Miller from the Ohio Warriors, Sean Sexton from the Idaho Warriors, and Logan Brokaw of the USA Warriors, there was a common theme – that of the spirit and enthusiasm around this tournament. Many of the players play in regional sled hockey leagues, but this tournament is a highlight. Both Miller and Brokaw said the same thing – that this was their favorite tournament of the year. When I asked why, the explanation was the same: This tournament is unique in that it is designed for military veterans. All served our nation honorably, and there is a camaraderie, a fellowship and an unwritten code among the players- Yes, they battle each other on the ice, and everyone wants to win, but in the end everyone has a shared experience – an understanding of what sacrifices every player has made – in service, in life, and now on the ice, and that great spirit imbues the handshake line after each game, and you know that everyone there is your brother or sister- It is an amazing feeling- cathartic and healing and foundational to the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program ethos – Hockey Heals!
This season marks the fourth time that USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program hosts this tournament, with great help from wonderful sponsors such as Miracle 4 Melanie, Fisher House, the Washington Capitals, Norton Rose Fulbright and FTI Consulting and from the many committed tournament volunteers. With such a great weekend of hockey and Healing, we look forward to hosting it again next year!