Warrior Camaraderie

Minnesota Warriors find common bond through military service and love of hockey

Tim Loney hollered at his Minnesota Warriors teammates and five other players on the ice in Eagle River, Wisconsin, during an exhibition game at the 2023 USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships.

Loney, the vice president of operations for the Minnesota Warriors, had the group circle around him and explained to them that 22 veterans commit suicide on average daily. 

Therefore, he asked if everyone would take a break from the fun and games at the annual pond hockey event and do 22 pushups to help raise awareness for this struggle.

In unison, the group tossed their hockey gear to the side, and began to rep out a series of pushups in unison.

The Minnesota Warriors Ice Hockey Program is a charitable, non-profit organization dedicated to injured and disabled U.S. Military Veterans who have served our country and play the sport of ice hockey. The Minnesota Warriors is the only USA Hockey Disabled Warrior program in Minnesota. 

“Part of the mission of the Minnesota Warriors is to help veterans reintegrate into society and help them fit back in,” Loney told USA Hockey Magazine. “When we go off into the veteran community, and you go to basic training – you get rewired – and coming back, the only ones who know what you are going through is another veteran. We use hockey to reintegrate and to help each other have a support system.”

This year was the first time Minnesota participated at USA Hockey’s Pond Hockey National Championships, and the team was crowned the national champions of the Warrior Division. 

The trip, though, was an opportunity for the seven veterans on the roster to bond not only in their similar military backgrounds, but also in their love for hockey, which they also celebrated with a Warrior Division championship. 

“Coming here and having this hockey community is helpful,” said Loney, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves for 30 years. “It’s not just a regular community in Minnesota or the other states that we’re in, this is the hockey community, and we’re integrating with the hockey community. We’re letting them know about the disabled veterans in their areas and how they can help, and we can help reduce veteran suicide.”

Dairne Mayer was one of the five players who decided to play in the exhibition game with the Warriors. She left the ice saying it was the best time she ever had in her eight years of skating in Eagle River. 

“It was good fun, pond hockey,” Mayer said. “No one cared who won or lost. We threw the sticks in the middle and divided into two teams. They’re all ex-military and it was just something nice to do. They were a really nice group of guys. I just really enjoyed that game. It was a lot of fun.

“I have a lot of friends who are in the military, and I really respect what they’ve done for the country. You know, we’re saying thanks for your service, thanks for playing and it was just a fun thing to do.”

Mark Paczynski served in the Army for 27-and-a-half years. Paczynski played on an all-military adult team while based out of Fort Lewis in Washington. When he returned home to Minnesota five years ago, he learned of the Minnesota Warriors and immediately signed up.

“I loved hockey and I played for a veteran’s team before,” Paczynski said. “This team helps veterans find a community through hockey.”

In essence, hockey can somewhat fill a void missing for many veterans who spent so much of their lives amidst military camaraderie. 

“I met a first-time hockey player, who is an amputee from Iraq, and he was a guy who was kind of lost and looking to find the veteran community,” Paczynski said. “He kind of found his way into the community through hockey, and now he’s at almost every practice.”

Loney knows Warrior Hockey can save lives. 

He has witnessed it first-hand. 

“In the locker room, we’ve got each other’s back,” Loney concluded. “I know that we’re saving lives. I know of at least 10 lives that the Minnesota Warriors have saved. I know of all the other programs around the country, we’ve saved probably a couple thousand veterans lives through hockey as therapy.” 

 

Issue: 
2023-04

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