Flyers Warriors Conquer Las Vegas

 

Formed less than one year ago after an initial skate and Learn to Play clinic held on Dec. 2, 2018, the Flyers Warriors team is participating in the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic in Las Vegas, presented and hosted by famed entertainer and longtime Vegas headliner Terry Fator. Here is a day-by-day account of the highlights of the team's experience.

  

THU, OCT 3, 2019

After exploring what Vegas has to offer by day, the Warriors attended Terry Fator's show at the Mirage Hotel and Casino.  A grueling stretch of five games in three days awaited on the other side.

 

FRI, OCT 4, 2019

Heading to the Warrior Classic, the Flyers Warriors had never trailed in a game since the team's creation. That changed in a hurry on the tournament opener against the Iowa Warriors, as the Flyers' side fell into an early 2-0 hole. 

 

"Our players came out trying to do a little too much. Falling behind was a new challenge for the boys, and the emotions were running high on the bench -- probably a little too high. We had to regroup and realize there was still a lot of hockey to be played and it was still anybody's game. We had to get our emotions in check, and get to playing the way we can play; with purpose and a lot of energy. Once we did that, we were fine," head coach Brad Marsh said.

 

Once the Flyers Warriors regrouped, the team took over the game. Six unanswered goals later, and the Flyers skated off with a 6-2 victory.

 

The Warrior Hockey program isn't just about hockey. It's about giving something back to our nation's wounded and disabled veterans through access to the sport. The effects have been dramatic, not just on the players themselves but also on their families. In between Friday's first and second games, Ed Donnelly, the father of Flyers Warriors forward Mike Donnelly and himself a U.S. Navy veteran, explained the impact he's seen the program have on Mike, Mike's teammates and the players' families.

 

 

In Friday's second game, the Flyers Warriors took on the  Nebraska Warriors. Play was even for about the first 10 minutes of the opening period. Thereafter, the ice was tilted in Philly's favor.  Strong goaltending for Nebraska kept the score close but the Flyers Warriors 3-1 victory was convincing.

 

After the second game, the Flyers Warriors joined played from the other participating teams for private reception at City National Arena, hosted by Fator.

"This tournament means a lot to me," said Fator, who is active supporter of causes related to the military and military families. "I've seen the impact that USA Hockey's Warrior program has on our veteran's community. The program has grown across the country, and the rate of growth is expanding very fast now, which is wonderful to see. To me, being the presenter of the Warrior Classic is just a way to give a little something back and thank our veterans for their service and their sacrifices for our country," said Fator, who is not himself a military veteran but has military members in his family.

"We're very grateful to Mr. Fator for helping make this tournament a reality. It's surreal to be here now, and think how far we've come in such a short time," said Flyers Warriors captain Jim Young.

 

SAT OCT. 5, 2019

At 11 a.m. sharp, there was a team meeting at the team hotel. The session was conducted by Marsh and by assistant coach Rob Baer. The takeaway theme of the meeting was team unity, maintaining a productive attitude on the bench, and supporting one's teammates when adversity strikes. Marsh cited an example from Saturday's second game of the Flyers Warriors on bench banging their sticks to celebrate a clutch save on a 2-on-1 rush rather than hollering at the teammate responsible for the odd-man rush as an example of the type of attitude that feeds into momentum rather than dectracting from it.

Both Marsh and Baer also ran down various details of the game that were opportunities for improvement: back-checking energy, winger responsibilities with and without puck possession in the defensive zone, gap management by defensemen, when to challenge, and smoother line changes were among the issues covered.

 

The Flyers Warriors early game on Saturday, which completed the round-robin portion of the tournament, was a lopsided affair agains the DC Beltway Warriors at the Las Vegas Ice Center. The Flyers side cruised to a 9-1 blowout win. 

 

"The pace was slower in this game, which was good for me because it gave me a chance to work on the some of the things we talked about the meeting before we played Colorado in the semifinals," said Flyers Warriors defenseman Rick Stabeno.

 

At 9:15 p.m., the Flyers Warriors played the Colorado Avalanche Warriors in the semifinals. This was a much tougher and more competitive game that was feisty at times.  Eventually, the Flyers Warriors pulled away to skate off with a 9-4 win and earn a trip to the championship game on Sunday at First National Arena against the North Carolina Warriors.

 

SUN OCT. 6, 2019

 

The atmosphere on the team bus was loose and confident, with a lot of laughter and din of conversation, as the team departed from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino for the trip back to City National Arena. Upon arrival, the NHL's Las Vegas Golden Knights were practicing on the near-side rink, while the Tier 1 championship was ongoing between the Dallas Warriors and Buffalo Sabres Warriors on the far-side rink.

 

Almost up until game time, it was uncertain if two of the Flyers Warriors top players, forwards Jason DiPietro and Mike "DQ" Delquadro, would be available to play. DiPietro was having an issue with his pacemaker, while Delquadro had been scratched in his eye and needed to put drops in each hour. In true hockey -- and warrior -- fashion, both suited up for the game.

 

A pair of Flyers Alumni -- goaltender Mike McKenna and defenseman Ryan McGill -- stopped by to show their respect and support for the Warrior Hockey team wearing the crest of one of the teams each represented in the NHL. The recently retired McKenna, now a Golden Knights broadcaster, came by the Flyers Warriors locker room before the game to give a little pep talk and wish the team the best for the final game. 

 

McGill, now a Golden Knights assistant coach, came over after the Golden Knights practice and before he had to leave for a coaches' meeting, to watch several minutes of the first period of the championship game.

 

When McGill arrived, the Flyers Warriors were trailing 1-0 in the first period and were down a player. During an early scramble around the Philly net, an NC forward took an extra chop at the whistle at goaltender Bill Duffy. Reacting immediately, Delquadro rushed in and deposited the opponent on the seat of his pants. The NC player received a slashing minor but Delquadro was tossed from the game on a charging major and game misconduct.

 

The Flyers Warriors pressed ahead, and tied the game at 1-1 only to fall behind again by a goal. However, Philly re-tied the game to send it to the second period knotted at 2-2.

 

In the middle stanza, NC once again went ahead by a goal, but the Flyers Warriors got it back on the next shift as defenseman Sean Wojciechowski (the Flyers Warriors also have an unrelated winger named Brian Wojciechowski) made it a 3-3 game.

 

From there, aggressive play on both sides of the puck, good goaltending by Duffy and the superior depth of the Flyers Warriors side started to turn what had been a very evenly played and tense game to the Philly side's advantage. When offensively skilled defenseman Nick Pidge scored his second of three goals in the game, the Flyers Warriors finally went ahead and went on to pull away. Winger Devon Richio added some valuable insurance. Pidge completed his hat trick with a short-handed empty netter, and the Flyers Warriors prevailed 7-3 to win the championship of the lower division. 

 

USA Hockey's classification system is a bit unusual, in that two teams that are defeated in the Tier 1 semifinals play a consolation game, with the winner declared the Tier 2 victory. Thus, although there were two brackets in the round-robin phase and there is not a third tier per se, the Flyers Warriors are recognized as the 2019 Tier 3 champions.

 

The championship celebration, naturally, was joyful, a bit rowdy, and lasted deep into the night. One of the biggest highlights: a stop by the team bus at the famous Las Vegas welcome sign for a team photo with the championship banner.

 

Even in the glow of victory, team captain Jim Young had future goals in mind for the team.

 

"I'm so proud of everyone on our team. We came here to win, and we did it. I'm proud of this banner and what it represents. But now we're aiming for Tier 1. With the way we've been growning and getting better every week and every game, in another year, I think we will be ready to compete with the more experienced teams. That's what I want to see us do next," Young said.

 

A veteran of over 1,000 NHL games, Marsh added, "Let's face it, winning is fun. This has been an awesome experience. But you know what else is really cool? This weekend, while we were playing here in Vegas, we had 15 other Flyers Warriros players come out to practice because they didn't want to give up the ice. Just in the last week or two, we've added four new players, and we actually have enough players already where we could have sent two teams to compete even though we had five [forward] lines in Vegas. The way this team and program have taken off is one of the most gratifying things I've ever been a part of in hockey."