Blackhawks scrimmage with disabled veterans at Soldier Field
BY MARK LAZERUS email@example.com February 16, 2013 6:42PM
U.S. Army Sgt. Jared Lemon (center), who was wounded in Afghanistan, skates for the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program in a scrimmage with the Blackhawks on Saturday at Soldier Field. The program consists of veterans or active-duty personnel who have been wo
Updated: February 17, 2013 12:09AM
Viktor Stalberg swooped around the back of the net and threaded a perfect centering pass to the low slot, where the puck was deftly chipped in over a sprawling Ray Emery for a goal. The Blackhawks celebrated wildly.
Emery did, too. After all, it’s not every day a soldier skating on two prosthetic legs scores a goal on an NHL goaltender in the middle of Soldier Field.
The Hawks gained a little practice and a lot of perspective Saturday morning during a 40-minute skate with the USA Warriors, a team composed of disabled veterans, at Soldier Field. The Warriors — with whom the Hawks skated a couple of years ago on their home ice in Washington after the team visited Walter Reed military medical center — were slated to play an exhibition Saturday night before a college doubleheader takes over the stadium on Sunday.
“It definitely gives you some perspective, when sometimes things aren’t going well at the rink or in your personal life, just to take a look at what some of these guys have sacrificed and what they’re going through,” Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said.
Warriors captain Mark Little, a 29-year-old from Fairfax, Va., who lost both his legs in 2007 when his humvee was hit with an IED in southern Baghdad, said the experience (his second with the Hawks now) left him “pretty much speechless.”
“People say we’re heroes or what have you, [but] we hardly see ourselves that way,” Little said. “We’re just lucky to still be here; a lot of our brothers and sisters aren’t. We’re so fortunate that we get these experiences. The middle of Soldier Field — can’t say more about it. Soldier Field, and that’s what we are, we’re all soldiers, out here playing hockey, the sport we love.”
Little said most of the Warriors have a background in hockey, but some join the team after their military service. “This is our therapy,” he said.
“We’re all alpha males, alpha females,” he said. “That’s why we joined the military. What do we like? We like the teamwork, the camaraderie, we like competition, we like something that’s physical. Hockey’s all of that. We’re on the battlefield, but instead of a desert, it’s ice.”
Both sides found the experience humbling — and fun.
“It’s definitely really special for us,” said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, sporting a black eye and a fat lip from his fight with San Jose’s Joe Thornton on Friday night. “We look up to them, we appreciate everything they’ve done for us. To us, they’re the real heroes. To share the ice and have them out for practice with us today is a pretty huge honor for the guys.”