Flyers Warriors: A Fabulous 1st Year

 

 

The Philadelphia Flyers Warriors are nothing if not ambitious. It's our goal to become the model program for all Warrior Hockey program to emulate. In less than one year from the time of our creation -- capped off by winning the championship at the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic and receiving a City Council Citation from the City of Philadelphia in Oct. 2019 -- we have experienced unprecedented growth in player participation. 

 

Recently, we held a board meeting to plan out our second year. The type of growth we've experienced in 2019 presents tremendous potential -- but also some significant challenges and choices to make -- as we aim to build on that in 2020 and beyond. We will have several announcements to make in that regard in the weeks and months to come.  

 

For now, let's look back at the pivotal dates and events of our first year.

 

Dec. 2, 2018: First Clinic

 

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The first open skating/ Learn to Play clinic was held on this date; open to local vets with an interest in playing hockey, regardless of his or her level of prior hockey playing experience. In the months to come, the number of attending players grew on a weekly basis, along with the interest level in our weekly practices.

 

Rick Stabeno, who was surprised to discover that the Philadelphia area did not have an affiilate team in USA Hockey's Warrior program, contacted the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers with a request for whatever assistance the organization could offer in helping with equipment and ice time. Through the Flyers, Brad Marsh (who played 1,086 regular season and 97 playoff games in the NHL and now serves both as the Flyers director of community development and the Flyers Alumni Association president) became our head coach and Rob Baer (Flyers director of youth and amateur hockey) our assistant coach. 

 

On January 31, 2019, the Philadelphia Warriors -- soon to be officially renamed -- gathered for the first time on the ice at the Wells Fargo Center to practice.

 

 

Feb. 21, 2019: FLYERS WARRIORS OFFICIALLY CREATED

 

 

 

As part of the NHL's Stadium Series week, a special ceremony was held inside the Flyers' locker room at the Wells Fargo Center. On that day, the Philadelphia Flyers officially adopted our team as an affiliate, with the team taking on the name Philadelphia Flyers Warriors and rights to use the Flyers famous crest. The Flyers and the National Hockey League jointly presented a seed money check to us for $50,000 to cover ice time and other necessary expenses for our team to practice, grow and prepare to play our first competitive games. 

 

We set a goal of participating in USA Hockey's 2019 Warrior Classic, to be held in Las Vegas, from Oct. 4 to 6. Famed entertainer Terry Fator, the winner of America's Got Talent's national competition in season 2 of the show and subsequently a longtime headliner in Las Vegas, sponsored the tournament as a way of giving something back to our nation's disabled veterans. 

 

In the months that followed, we maintained weekly practices at the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken. Brad Marsh, Rob Baer and Bob Kelly, the Flyers' Ambassador of Hockey throughout the Delaware Hockey, were instrumental in helping us transform on the ice from a group of players into a bonafide hockey team. On and off-the-ice we grew into a tight-knit unit. Soon, we actually had enough players attending practice regularly to ice two squads in a game. Players, both male and female, participated. Our practices, and post-practice outings, became something that everyone eagerly anticipated throughout the week.

 

A major next step in our development was our sponsorship by Toyota; specifically the Delaware Valley's Team Toyota group.

 

March to September 2019: A Program Becomes a Team

 

The Flyers Warriors program was not in the public spotlight much during the spring and summer months of our first year, but these were crucial months in how we transformed from a group of individuals from military backgrounds with VA-certified disabilites and an interest in playing hockey into a very close-knit, bonafide hockey team and extended family. For most of us, our weekend practices at the Skate Zone in Pennsauken were the most looked-forward-to event of every week. The only thing that rivaled our practices: our get-togethers off-the-ice, whether after practice or for other occasions.

 

For us, being part of the Warriors has been a huge boost to our quality of life, our mental and physical health and our personal lives away from the rink. We are not unique in that regard: USA Hockey's Warrior program is making a huge positive difference in the lives of participants across the country.  Our personal stories, branches of services and levels of off-ice challenges vary widely, as do our our pre-Warriors hockey playing experience levels, but the program itself has bonded us together in ways that go far beyond sharpening hockey skills and competing on the ice.

 

That said, one other thing we have in common: When we play, we play to win.

  

Sept. 14-16, 2019: Flyers Warriors Training Camp

 

Courtesy of sponsor Toyota, the Flyers Warriors conducted a three-day training camp at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, concurrently with the Flyers' NHL camp. The purpose of the camp was to get the Flyers Warriors ready for competitive games, and as a preparation process for the eventual trip to Las Vegas to play in the Warrior Classic.

The camp was conducted in similar fashion to an NHL style. It included physical testing for each player, grueling on-ice sessions, a professional staff of trainers and equipment managers (special thanks go out to Flyers Alumni trainers including Dave "Sudsy" Settlemyre and Jim "Turk" Evers) as well as special guest speakers at team meetings.

 

On the first day of camp, every player on the team was presented with professional-style customized uniforms. In a special ceremony, Bob Clarke presents Flyers Warriors captain Jim Young with his jersey, and the two men exchange a Flyers hat for a Flyers Warriors hat. The shell on each player's hockey pants included the insignia of his or her branch of military service. At a team get-together upstairs at the Skate Zone after the first training camp practice, our team surprised Brad Marsh and Rob Baer with their own customized Flyers Warriors jerseys as a thank you for all they do for us as coaches and advocates for our program.

 

Exhibition Games Before Warrior Classic

 

 

Our most high-profile exhibition game before the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic was our game at the Wells Fargo Center against the Pittsburgh Warriors (see below). However, we also played two other exhibition games before heading to Las Vegas. First, we played Washington. Then, in our first-ever game against a non-military veteran team, we went up at the Glaziers Union team. Our side won both games. 

 

 

Sept. 16, 2019: Flyers Warriors vs. Pittsburgh Warriors

On Sept. 16, 2019, the Flyers Warriors played host to the Pittsburgh Warriors in an afternoon game at the Wells Fargo Center, several hours before the NHL's Flyers played their first game of the National Hockey League preseason. The Flyers Warriors easily handled an undermanned Pittsburgh roster, winning by a 16-3 score. 

 

Oct. 4-6, 2019: Flyers Warriors Win Warrior Classic

 

For a day-by-day account of the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic, including a synopsis of each game and events around the tournament, see our daily tournament journal on the Flyers Alumni website. For a tournament synopsis and focus on our 7-3 championship game victory over the Carolina Warriors, see the post-tournament article that ran on the Flyers' official website.

 

Oct. 9, 2019: Ceremony at City Hall in Philadelphia 

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Philadelphia City Council's Veterans Adisory Commission director Carlo Aragoncillo organized a special ceremony at City Hall on Oct. 9, 2019 in honor of the Flyers Warriors Championship and in recognition of the impact that the Warrior Hockey program has already had in improving the quality of life for participating veterans.  City Council issued a citation in our honor. In full, it reads:

 

The Council of the City of Philadelphia is pleased and proud to honor the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors for their hard work, dedication, loyalty, patriotism and dedicated service both on and off the ice.

 

Whereas, the City of Philadelphia is privledged to be the birthplace of our country, the United States Army, the United States Navy, and the United States Marine Corps. It is the City's distinct honor to acknowledge the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors as their premier all-veterans sports team and official affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers and National Hockey League; and

 

Wherease, from October 4 thru October 6, 2019, the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors competed as one of sixteen USA Hockey Warrior teams in the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada; and

 

Whereas, on Sunday, October 6, 2019, the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors reigned as the undefeated 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic champions, joining the ranks of the Soul, Phillies, Flyers, [76ers] and Eagles as an official Philadelphia championship-winning team; and

 

Whereas, each player on the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors. prior to coming home to Philadelphia, willingly sacrificed and risked their lives while wearing our nation's cloth as a service member, representing all branches of service  -- the United States Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. The acts of these service members, through feats of courage, nobility and purpose or life-risking situations make them true heroes and we proudly call these veterans true Warriors.

 

Therefore, by virtue of this Citation, the Council of the City of Philadelphia does hereby honor and recognize the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors as 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic champions. [We] commend the Philadelphia Flyers Warriors on this momentus occasion and extend to them all the sincere respect and admiration of this legislative body. Congratulations!

 

Oct. 9, 2019

Darrell L. Clarke, President

 

Numerous speakers congratulated the Warriors, and both head coach Brad Marsh and team captain Jim Young spoke on behalf of the hockey team. Among the attendees representing the City of Philadelphia were Philadelphia City Council's Veterans Adisory Commission director Carlo Aragoncillo, City Councilman David Oh, and City Representative Sheila Hess.  

On the evening of Oct. 9, 2019, the Flyers Warriors attended the NHL Flyers' regular season home opener against the New Jersey Devils as guests in a special club box reserved for the use of Flyers Warriors players and families. A host of Flyers Alumni -- including Dave "the Hammer" Schultz, Chris Therien, Danny Briere, Riley Cote and Brian Propp --- stopped by during the game to congratulate us. Additionally, during a stoppage of play in the second period, there was a special video montage on the Wells Fargo Center jumbotron recounting our run to the championship with a live camera in our club box.

 

 

Oct. 2019: First Steps Toward Year 2

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Even during the Warrior Classic tournament in Las Vegas, we had 15 players come out in Pennsaulken for our regular practice. After winning the Warrior Classic championshio, one of our main immediate goals was to regroup as an entire team for our typical weekend practices. We have continued to see growth in the number of players turning out at the rink.  In the meantime, two new facets of our program started to come to fruition in the weeks following the tournament in Las Vegas.

 

Flyers Warriors Wives 

 

 

As a means of bringing the Flyers Warriors family closer together, a Flyers Warriors Wives Facebook group has been formed, and outings planned for the spouses and significant others of Warriors players. Two have already been held.

Special thanks go out to Maria Stabeno for taking the lead in organizing these activities. Moving forward, we are discussing special events that incorporate the Flyers' Warriors entire families.

 

Philadelphia Veterans Parade: Nov. 3, 2019

 

Members of the Flyers Warriors and family members marched alongside the Comcast Military contingent participating in the City of Philadelphia's 5th annual Veterans Parade. The parade participation kicked off the highlights of a slate of November activities for our program.

 

LeClair at Wells Fargo Center Practice: Nov. 4, 2019 

 

On the evening of Nov. 4, the Flyers Warriors held a semi-open practice at the Wells Fargo Center; open to military veterans with proof of service and their own hockey equipment.  Several brand new players with interest in the program came out along with recent additions to the Flyers Warriors hockey program and longer-serving players. The practice, as usual, was conducted by head coach Brad Marsh, assistant coach Rob Baer and frequent instructor Bob "the Hound" Kelly. In addition, there was a special guest on the ice for the practice: Flyers Hall of Fame and USA Hockey Hall of Fame left winger John LeClair. John worked with our players on their shooting skills. 

 

Flyers Wariors "Super Sunday": Nov. 11, 2019

 

On Nov. 11, 2019, the Flyers Warriors had a triple-header of hockey-related activities. In the morning, a contigent of Flyers Warriors went to Grundy Arena in Bristol, PA. The group skated with and held a meet-and-greet with Grundy Senators squirt hockey players and Snider Hockey participants. Next, the Warriors held regular practice at our "home rink" at the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken, NJ. Finally, in the early evening, a group of Warriors players went to the Skatium in Havertown, PA, to help the Haverford Hawks celebrate their 40th Anniversary. Flyers Warriors players skated with Hawks players and held a Q&A session afterwards.

 

Rematch with NC Warriors: Nov. 15, 2019

 

 

On Nov. 15, 2019, a 21-player roster of Flyers Warriors represented the team in a trip to Fayetteville, NC, highlighted by playing in a late afternoon exihibition game at Crown Coliseum prior the Fayetteville Marksmen's SPHL regular season game. Our opponent, in a rematch of the championship game of the 2019 USA Hockey Warrior Classic: The North Carolina Warriors hockey team.

It was another highly competitive game. We sustained our first-ever loss, 4-2, but the game could have gone either way. We have a ton of respect for our brother Warriors on the NC team. 

 

United Heroes League Clinic: Nov. 16, 2019

 

 

For the second straight year, members of the Flyers Alumni Association served as coaches at a United Heroes Hockey League -- a program that provides access to the game and top-caliber instruction to kids from military families -- in the Delaware Valley.  Last year's clinic took place at the Wells Fargo Center. This year, it was at the Skate Zone, and various members of the Flyers Warriors joined our head coach Brad Marsh and assistants Rob Baer and Bob Kelly on the ice with the kids. It was a great experience for all of us. 

 

Toyota Military Appreciation Night: Nov. 16, 2019

 

 

Sponsored by Toyota, the Flyers held their annual Military Appreciation Night at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 16, 2019, when the Flyers hosted the New York Islanders. The organization and sponsor went the extra mile to make it a special night everyone involved, as well as for active-duty and military vets who could not be in attendance but were represented by a montage of photos submitted by friends and family members that were shown on the giant center ice jumbotron before the game and during intermissions.

 

One of the night's special features involved the Flyers Warriors. As a surprise to us, we were presented with the special military appreciation-themed warmup jerseys the Flyers players wore before the game. As players exited the ice after warmup, they met with us in the hallway adjoining the team's locker room, removed and autographed their jerseys. Each Flyers Warrior player received the jersey of one player. Assistant coach Ian Laperriere, a huge supporter of our program, also stopped by to greet each and every one of us. We then gathered for a team photo in the Flyers players-only entrance area where the NHLers and the coaches arrive to and depart from each home game. 

 

During a stoppage of play in the game, the Flyers Warriors (wearing our jerseys gifted by the Flyers players) were introduced by Lou Nolan to the Wells Fargo Center crowd. For the second time in two months, many of the Flyers fans in the stands honored us with a standing ovation. 

 

We would be remiss if we did not also mention some of the other very special aspects of Military Appreciation Night. The Flyers brought in two-team Team USA Paralympian and Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient Melissa Stockwell, Medal of Honor recipient and Afghanistan veteran Ryan Pitts and four-star Army General Tony Pitts (a Pennsylvania native) as honored guests. 

 

Huffman Coaches at Practice: Nov. 17, 2019

 

 

One morning after we took part in the United Heroes clinic and Military Appreciation Night with the Flyers, we were back on the ice for Sunday practice at Pennsauken. Marshy had another surprise in store for us. Lehigh Valley Phantoms assistant coach Kerry Huffman -- a first-round Draft pick and two-stint Flyers player in his pro playing days of the latter-1980s to the mid-1990s -- joined us on the ice as a guest instructor. "Huffer" is an amazing instructor. 

 

Big Things Ahead in 2020

 

We held our board meeting in October to discuss vital matters about our approach to Year 2. In the very near future, we will have some big announcements about upcoming events and other matters of interest. Stay tuned!