Special bond unites USA Warriors, Blackhawks
|The Wounded Warriors joined the Blackhawks for a skate at Soldier Field in February 2013.|
It was six years ago when U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Purple Heart recipient Paul Schaus was lying in a hospital bed wondering what the future would hold.
"I had a moment there in the hospital where I didn't want to leave the room; just wanted to be a homebody or something. I didn't want to get out," Schaus told NHL.com.
At the time, Schaus was coming off a bilateral above-knee amputation after losing both legs to an improvised explosive device during a routine patrol while serving his country in Afghanistan in 2009.
"We were supporting another patrol and I stepped on the IED, but my whole team remembered their training and took care of me, got me out of there and saved my life," he said. "The men you serve with in the military aren't guys you normally grow up with, but we all have the same mindset, thoughts and go through the same stuff. That's what bonds the group together and becomes a lifetime brotherhood. You don't forget."
It wasn't long after when a couple of friends visited Schaus at the hospital and explained to him that playing sled hockey for the USA Warriors might be something he'd enjoy.
The USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, Inc., founded in 2008, is an organization that trains and supplies injured servicemen and women with hockey equipment and skills to use the sport as a rehabilitation tool.
Schaus thought it was a good idea. He'd been playing hockey with various squirt and travel teams, and eventually his high school, in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., for as long as he could remember. He joined the Marine Corps in October 2006.
The 26-year-old can admit with earnest that the USA Warriors was his stepping stone out the door and into a new world of competitive hockey he never imagined.
"Getting out and playing hockey, and the whole experience of getting to the rink and putting on the gear, it really opened a path not only with hockey, but life," Schaus said.
Schaus would spend two seasons with the USA Warriors, and is now a member of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team that will compete for a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics beginning March 7 at Shayba Arena in Russia. The United States is the defending champion, having posted five straight shutouts en route to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics.
While Schaus will be traveling with his 16 teammates and coaching staff to Sochi this weekend, his former team, the USA Warriors, will be guests of the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday when they are given the opportunity to join the team during their practice session on the ice at Soldier Field.
The 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series matchup pitting the Blackhawks against the Pittsburgh Penguins is scheduled Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (NBC).
"This will be the second time we have been out at Soldier Field with the Hawks," USA Warriors director of fundraising and publicity Lisa Yambrick said. "I think the Warriors' emotions last year during our first visit ran more toward excitement about what we expected to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Blackhawks have a history with the wounded veterans, having visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2011 when they were in Washington, D.C., to meet with President Barack Obama to honor the 2010 Stanley Cup championship team. They not only skated with wounded veterans that day, but also Feb. 16, 2013 at Soldier Field during the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic that featured two college hockey games on the gridiron that weekend.
"These guys are our heroes," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said last year. "It's an inspiration to see these guys want to come out here and play and do anything they can to have some fun, stay in shape and play something they love. Getting to share it with some pro athletes is special for them, but I think it's more special for us when we get a chance to show some of our appreciation for what they've done for us."
The 20-minute scheduled skate with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Friday is the first of a few events the Warriors have planned during Hockey Weekend Across America.
On Saturday, during "Try Hockey For Free," 17 standing members of the USA Warriors will play against Chicago Congressman Mike Quigley's celebrity team at Johnny's Ice House West. That game will be followed by a match between the 10 sled team members of the USA Warriors against the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Blackhawks.
The Warriors are then scheduled to assist in a "Try Hockey for Free" event at the Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge before returning to Soldier Field to watch the NHL outdoor match between the Blackhawks and Penguins.
"The Hawks have made it clear that they aren't just paying lip service to the idea of supporting the troops and our players, and they've made it clear that they are honored to maintain an ongoing relationship with us," Yambrick said. "I think we head to Chicago this year with more of a sense of reuniting with friends with whom we share mutual admiration and respect and love of the greatest sport in the world."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer