Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Misiewicz stood on his prosthetic legs with the help of a cane. A cold wind whipped around the ice rink set up on Soldier Field. But for the young native of La Grange, Ill., the scene was just part of one of his warmest hockey moments.
The USA Warriors, a hockey program designed to give military veterans who have been hurt in action a chance to play hockey again, just wrapped up their skate with the Chicago Blackhawks. And for Misiewicz, it was a hockey dream come true.
“I’ve been playing hockey my whole life, now sled hockey,” said Misiewicz, who lost both of his legs and some of his hearing after he stepped on a bomb while serving in Afghanistan in July of 2011. “Being from here in Chicago, it’s just awesome. You watch these guys; you idolize them. Just to talk to them on the ice is an incredible experience.”
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The Blackhawks were feeling the same way about the USA Warriors.
The Warriors were the Blackhawks’ guests for a 45-minute skate here on Saturday. It was the second skate they Blackhawks had with the group – they had one in Washington, D.C., back in the spring of 2011, when they made their post-Cup White House trip. And much like that first time, the Blackhawks came away inspired and awed by their military guests.
“It’s awesome,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “A bunch of us did it a couple years ago in Washington and went to meet the guys at Walter Reed (Hospital)… . Here we are again, and the honor is still the same. To talk to them and understand what they went through, it’s definitely special for us. We appreciate everything they’ve done for us. To us, they’re the real heroes.”
The Blackhawks had a quick drill before the USA Warriors joined them for some impromptu games on each end of the ice. They celebrated goals together, shared a few stories and finished the day with a group photo.
“It’s people who have sacrificed a lot and went through a lot to come back and enjoy a sport they love,” said goaltender Ray Emery, who will be starting for the Blackhawks again on Sunday. “It’s a great day. It’s cool to play outside, but it’s also a chance to have some fun with some good people.”
Patrick Sharp said the day brought a lot of perspective.
“When things aren’t going well at the rink or your personal life, you just to take a look at what some of these guys have sacrificed and gone through,” he said. “It’s definitely some perspective.”
Army 2nd Lt. Mark Little, who lost both of his legs in a roadside bombing in Iraq in 2007, couldn’t contain his excitement. The 29-year-old from Fairfax Va., now the USA Warriors captain, said it was “inspiring.”
“We’re in the middle of Solider Field. You can’t say much more about it,” he said. “We’re all soldiers in the end. We’re out here playing hockey, the sport we love. The Blackhawks are top notch, first class. They’ve invited us a second time – they were in D.C. (at the White House in 2011) and invited a few of us to watch that. But to be invited to their home, on their ice, it’s inspiring. I’ve said a lot, but I’m pretty much speechless.”
It was a day of enjoying some hockey, yet recognizing so much beyond it. For some of the USA Warriors, it was a chance to meet their hockey heroes. For the Blackhawks, it was an opportunity to meet some real heroes.
“These guys are our heroes,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s inspirational to see these guys come out and play, have some fun, do something they love. To share with pro athletes is special for them but it’s more special for us to show our appreciation.”