As the nation prepared to observe Veterans Day on Nov. 11, the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors hosted the fifth annual USA Hockey Warrior Classic, presented by Pink Whitney last weekend.
The 2021 Warrior Classic, which brought together 25 teams comprised of male and female service members and veterans with disabilities from around the U.S., was held at the Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, New Jersey, and Hollydell Ice Arena in Sewell, New Jersey.
The stand-up ice hockey tournament has been held since 2017, when the inaugural event took place in Arlington, Virginia. Since then, the Warrior Classic has experienced tremendous growth. A total of 453 players took part during this year’s event.
“This was the largest one to date,” said Bill Duffy, Flyers Warriors president and a retired Air Force veteran. “Usually, the Warrior Classic was 14 to 16 Warrior teams spread out through four divisions.”
All warrior hockey participants have to meet a minimum disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The 2021 Warrior Classic featured round-robin competitions in seven tiers based on playing ability.
The Warrior Classic began with a “Salute to Service” game Friday between the Flyers Warriors and the Colorado Warriors. It featured a ceremonial puck drop with former Philadelphia Flyers John LeClair, Paul Holmgren and Mark Howe, all of whom served as co-chairmen of the tournament.
“Being born in the U.S., this tournament is about the veterans that served our country, helped keep me safe, my family safe and [have] done that for years,” said Howe, a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, in a Philadelphia Flyers Alumni YouTube video. “It’s hard to give back, but this is a way that we try to give back.
“Now that I’m retired, I have the time to come and do these things, so I’m proud, I’m honored, and I want to thank everybody that’s on the ice for their service and what you’ve done for me and my family over the years.”
The Flyers Warriors clearly enjoyed the home ice advantage over the weekend. They won championships in Tier 1, Tier 4 and Tier 7. Duffy played goaltender for the Tier 1 team that defeated Colorado in the championship game.
“You know what? On and off the ice, we were all winners,” Duffy said. “We’re all good friends. We all talk on a regular basis throughout the week. It was really special to be a part of [this], and everybody had a good tournament because, guess what? Everybody was there, which is the most important part.
“It’s not just about us. I want to see every program succeed because it’s … an important part of our veterans’ lives to get out on that ice and be around each other.”
Duffy pointed out that the teams might be competitors on the ice, but they are brothers and sisters off it.
“We are more than happy to help any program,” Duffy said. “We’re all one team in this as Warrior programs, and I would never turn down an opportunity to help a program get better.”
Duffy, who noted that the Flyers Warriors had grown from 33 to 76 players since their inception, said he was willing to help other Warrior programs host future Classics.
“I would like to see other programs have it because it’ll help bring in more revenue for their programs, as well,” said Duffy, adding that he would give future host teams everything they needed to succeed. “We’re there to help each other in the long run.”
Chris Muldoon of the Tier 3 champion Michigan Warriors is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and now works for the VA, and he came away quite impressed with this year’s Warrior Classic.
“It was a great weekend,” Muldoon said. “They did just a tremendous job and they have great facilities, which is always a plus.
“Their scheduling was great. Everything was super seamless. The social event they put on was just unreal. They set a high bar. It’s going to be really hard for anybody in the future to beat that.”
Muldoon said the Michigan Warriors got quite a boost out of last weekend’s Warrior Classic.
“There’s just a huge buzz within the program for wanting to do more of these things going forward,” Muldoon said. “Guys are really excited to do this thing again. Just in the last week since we’ve gotten back, I think we’ve had over 10 membership applications. Typically, we get three, four a month. It seems like people are talking and wanting to get their buddies to come play with the program.
“Big kudos to the folks at USA Hockey. I think that they did an incredible job under pretty tough circumstances, considering we’re still in a pandemic. I think they should be recognized.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.