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Lightning Warriors Win National Championship Prior to Hosting Warrior Classic

By Dan Scifo, 04/24/24, 9:15AM MDT


This year’s Warrior Classic will take place in Wesley Chapel, Florida, in October.

The Tampa Bay-based Lightning Warriors managed to bring home a championship several months before they will welcome the Warrior Hockey world to their city.

The Lightning Warriors captured the Tier 6 title at the Toyota USA Hockey Warrior National Championship at the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, New Jersey, on April 14.

In October, the Lightning Warriors will host the eighth annual USA Hockey Warrior Classic in Wesley Chapel, Florida.

“It’s almost like having family come over to your house,” said Chris Scangarello, executive director of the Lightning Warriors. “You get to show them your place and hope they have a good time. Obviously, it’s very exciting to know that a big tournament like that is coming to our house.”

The Warrior Hockey Discipline is dedicated to injured and disabled U.S. military veterans who have served our country and play ice hockey. As one of the disabled hockey section’s newest disciplines, Warrior Hockey is quickly growing across the country. While some participants played hockey prior to being injured, many try it for the first time for therapeutic reasons.

“After leaving the military services, there’s a big void there,” Scangarello said. “In our group, we all have this bond … we’re all a family and we check on each other. We see each other and you can sometimes tell if somebody’s off. We have those resources to talk.”

Scangarello initially joined the organization as a player in 2018 where he estimated there were about 25 or 30 players. Now, he said there’s about 150 members, and the group has a new partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning. This year’s national title was the organization’s first under the Lightning Warriors name.

“Our partnership is fairly new, and it has been great so far,” Scangarellosaid. “It has allowed us to do a lot for our veterans and a lot for our community, just having that resource behind us … an organization as big as the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s just going to continue.”

To be eligible to compete in Warrior Hockey, participants must have a discharge under honorable conditions with the ability to provide official documentation. At the national championship, more than 750 players across 34 teams from around the country competed for a national title in six different tiers.

The Lightning Warriors claimed the Tier 6 title with a 4-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Warriors Black. Delio Cervera, Robert Gasper, Wesly Weber and Nicole Gravelle scored for the Lightning, and Randall Nolin made 14 saves and earned the win in goal.

“It was amazing to represent the Lightning in our first tournament and win the championship,” Scangarello said. “On top of that, it was just great to come together as a team and battle to win it all. The competition was great, we fought hard, and everybody played well.”

The organization was initially founded in 2017 and earned nonprofit status in 2020 before partnering with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2023. Scangarellosaid a requirement to join the team is to perform volunteer hours within the community, but he added that it isn’t difficult for the former service members.

Additionally, each year the organization holds an annual Hockey Heals 22 charity fundraising event, which is 22 hours of consecutive hockey played to raise awareness for the 22 veteran suicides that occur every day. This year, the event takes place June 8-9 in Wesley Chapel.

“We’re doing everything we can to lower that number,” Scangarello said. “It’s a way to keep giving to the community that has given so much to us. For those of us who have served, it’s just in our DNA to give, and we have a lot of avenues to give back.”

The Lightning Warriors are dedicated to offering a dual-purpose environment that blends recreation and competition while also providing therapeutic and educational benefits for its members. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s commitment extends to supporting the disabled veteran community and actively fostering greater inclusivity and participation in hockey while also contributing to the Tampa Bay area community.

In the past, the organization has provided more than 1,000 volunteer hours, which includes cleaning up local beaches, donating food, blood drives and assisting the Lightning with learn-to-skate programs.

“The partnership [with the Lightning] is kind of in its infancy, but it has been fantastic,” Scangarello said. “They’ve been super supportive. They designed an amazing uniform, and we got tons of compliments on it all weekend long. As the partnership grows, we’re going to be able to do more for the veterans, more for the community, more for the Lightning and more for hockey. The sky is the limit.”

Scangarello is excited because he feels the organization might be able to enter multiple teams for the upcoming Warrior Classic and friends and family will be able to watch since the event will be close.

“It’s exciting to know that [the Warrior Classic] is going to be here,” he said. “It’s a huge family atmosphere and a big brotherhood of veterans, and you get to continue that camaraderie as the host.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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