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USA Warriors program uses hockey to help wounded soldiers

03/21/2012, 10:45am MDT
By Tony Lee

For a wounded soldier, rehabilitation can take on several forms. So many of those returning from war have sustained not only serious physical injuries, but they have taken on a heavy emotional toll. 

The USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, which offers creative avenues for those veterans to return (or be introduced to, as the case may be) to the frozen pond, continues to provide a complete set of rehabilitative activities, assisting the wounded soldiers in many aspects of their recovery. 

For the mark the program has made on countless veterans over the years, it will receive another high honor in May: the 2012 Director’s Creative Humanitarian Achievement Award from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s esteemed Program in Physical Therapy Education. 

While all forms of therapy can be critical in that long road back, this program has had an incredible impact. Organizers have found that hockey is a perfect fit for those who put their lives on the line in the name of freedom.

USA Warriors feature photo“Ice hockey in particular helps build confidence in our players,” said USA Warriors President Thom Hirsch. “Once they get on the ice, they quickly realize how hard ice hockey is and how anything that they achieve is strictly a result of their persistence and hard work. Through hockey, they can demonstrate to themselves what they can achieve. 

“Another dimension of hockey is that it is a bit rough. That makes our program particularly attractive to the seriously wounded. Most of the wounded warriors were very rough and tumble individuals right up to the moment they were injured and have not had a chance to be rough since. Hockey gives them an outlet and shows them they can be a bit rough and physically aggressive again. … All of this helps to re-build the players’ confidence.”

Those aren’t the only emotions that come forth through involvement with the Warriors, who have teams for vets who are standing (often on one or even two prosthetics) and those that require a sled for mobility on the ice. In some cases, it is that very involvement that gets the emotions going.

Such was the case with one member who recently began participating in the Warriors sled hockey program. Hirsch said that the man had shown virtually no emotion until attending one sled hockey clinic for soldiers from the Walter Reed Medical Center. Now he’s a full-fledged member of the Warriors sled hockey program and ready to play in games.

“For this particular guy, hockey helped get him over the hump in starting to rebuild his life,” Hirsch said.

Assistance projects abound for the Warriors, some of whom will travel to Omaha, Neb., in May to accept their award and to speak with members of the graduating class of physical therapists. In the eyes of those at UNMC, there is no better complement to a commencement exercise. 

“Their program is the perfect example of a community-based program that provides individuals with a disability a chance to reintegrate into their communities in a fun, productive, meaningful way, while at the same time advancing their physical skills,” said Jack Turman Jr., program director at the UNMC Division of Physical Therapy Education.

In addition to aiding veterans in difficult situations, the USA Warriors are especially proud of their connection with several high school hockey programs that visit and skate with the recovering veterans on a regular basis. The program stresses to the students that most of those on the Warriors teams are not much older; recognizing their sacrifices and understanding that these veterans may need assistance for years to come helps create a system of support.

The hockey community itself is a giving one, and it is one committed to such support. Hirsch is quick to reference assistance from USA Hockey, the NHL, the Capitals and others who have helped to broaden exposure. For a volunteer-based organization with no paid staff, every little bit helps and can be tied directly to improving the lives of those who were injured while serving the country.

“It feels very gratifying to be recognized with the award, which is a tremendous boost to our board of directors and the volunteers whose help is critical to sustaining our program and moving forward at the pace we are going,” Hirsch said. “Having said that, I know every one of our board members and volunteers feel the same way I do and they will tell you that it is not about us. It is about the wounded and injured servicemen and women and disabled veterans whom we are trying to help.  

“We want to help more and more of those wounded in the defense of our Nation. That is our mission.” 

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Three ways to beat burnout

11/28/2016, 9:45pm MST
By Dave Pond

According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

Tag(s): Warrior Hockey