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Wounded Veterans Honored in Charity Game

By John Tranchina , 10/12/12, 12:00PM MDT


The scoreboard might have indicated that the Lawmakers defeated the USA Warriors 7-3, but there’s no question that the Warriors, a team comprised of former soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, were the true winners. 


The charity hockey game held Sept. 12 at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., the official practice facility of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, raised thousands of dollars, as well as increased public awareness, for the USA Warriors program.  


Led by U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who helped conceive and organize the event, the Lawmakers squad featured mostly congressional staffers along with U.S. Reps. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., and Pat Meehan, R-Pa.  


USA Warriors 350Preceding the game, the USA Warriors’ sled hockey team took the ice for a spirited scrimmage. 


The event, which attracted almost 1,000 people, honored the former soldiers, many of whom skate with artificial limbs. Some are still recovering from their wartime injuries and receiving treatment at nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center while easing their way back into civilian life. 


“We weren’t going to be the winners no matter what happened on the scoreboard,” said Quigley, who played right wing. “I now know what the Washington Generals felt like, who played the Harlem Globetrotters — people aren’t there to watch me. I also felt like the villains in professional wrestling. We scored a goal and you could hear a cricket. They score and the place went wild. 


“I get it, and I love it.” 


Warriors captain Mark Little reported that the game was hardly an easygoing exhibition. 


“It’s one of those games that I personally love because you can tell that the team we’re playing is not holding back at all, they’re playing at the level that they can and that’s always the best,” said Little, a Purple Heart recipient who skates on two artificial legs. “All the guys on the bench were extremely motivated and had a great time. It was intense but fun, and that’s exactly how the sport should be.” 


Quigley confirmed that the veterans would not tolerate anything but the Lawmakers’ best effort. 


“I remember, one of our guys kind of goes around a guy in the corner who has two artificial legs,” Quigley recalled. “He made a point of not getting too close, and they told us, ‘We want your best game, don’t do that.’ This is a fundraiser, but these guys want to come back and do all the things they love. Part of that is hockey, and you better not treat them differently, because that’s not what they want, and you’ve got to respect the hell out of that.” 

“We’re still the same stereotypical alpha male that the military calls for and breeds,” added Little, who plays left wing and admitted to trash-talking Quigley whenever they lined up across from each other. “We want that competition and when we get it, we’re determined to win.”  


Spending some time in the spotlight and receiving thanks for their sacrifices from not only Congress but also some high-ranking members of the military establishment meant a great deal to the former soldiers.  


“It was absolutely great,” said Little, who said he specifically enjoyed seeing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno drop the ceremonial first puck. “Not to go on too high a level with the symbolism, but the people who challenged us to go out and do the job we do overseas that puts us in harm’s way, to have them come out and play with us on the ice, it’s kind of a solidarity type of thing, closing the circle. 


“Knowing that they recognize the sacrifices that the soldiers have made and the entire military as a whole, and the families — that’s great. To take the time to play, help with the planning process and the publicity for it and knowing that all the funds are going to the program, it’s just amazing.” 


The feeling of gratitude was clearly mutual, especially from Quigley, who co-chairs the bi-partisan Congressional Hockey Caucus and helps engineer numerous initiatives that help bring hockey to under-privileged kids in his home district of Chicago and across the country. 


“They’re all Purple Heart winners and you’re proud to play hockey with them and help raise money for the cause,” said Quigley, an avid Blackhawks fan. “The same qualities that made them successful in the military — teamwork, perseverance and determination — make them inspiring competitors on the ice.” 


Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.