Hondo Tamez, a Navy veteran who missed the camaraderie of life in the military, stood on the tarmac near the main sheet of ice at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena early, eager to join his Kansas City Warriors for a special practice session.
John Readman echoed Tamez’s eagerness, yet this Army veteran has spent years playing hockey while Thursday morning’s session would be Tamez’s second practice on the ice.
“We have 30-year hockey players like John and guys who have been to one or two practices, like Hondo,” said Warriors president and founder Matt Lawson. “What’s happening here this morning is a pretty big deal.”
“I think this Warriors hockey team is a pretty big deal, and so do the guys who are playing. We create a team and caring atmosphere in a therapeutic environment.”
USA’s Warrior Hockey Discipline is dedicated to injured and disabled veterans. The Warriors, made up of veterans suffering from a range of physical and mental issues from hearing loss to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), have been in existence just three months. The team’s growth has been impressive.
“The first practice I went to a couple of months ago,” said Kansas City Mavericks team captain Rocco Carzo, who raised the money for the Warriors game jerseys, “and there were eight guys. There are 28 guys skating here today, and they’re having so much fun. This is just a great opportunity for a bunch of veterans to bond and have fun.”
Following their morning practice session, the Mavericks joined the Warriors for their practice session, and it was difficult to tell who was having more fun – the pros or the vets.
When Readman slapped the puck past Mavericks goalie Nick Schneider, the ice erupted with applause and stick taps on the ice.
“This is a great program, a worthy program, an honorable program,” Mavericks president and general manager Brent Thiessen said. “We’re celebrating Military Weekend with our games Friday and Saturday, and what better way to celebrate then by honoring our veterans and having the Warriors play a game before our Saturday night game.”
For $20, fans can buy a ticket to see the Mavericks play Utah, and also see the Warriors take on a Warriors team from Minnesota. The Warriors game is at 4 p.m.
“There are ways to really celebrate our military and the men and women who protect our country, and this is a great way to do it – giving them the opportunity to play here before our game Saturday.”
Readman and his teammates can’t wait to hit the ice Saturday.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Readman, who lost his hearing in a explosion in Iraq. “I’ve played hockey for about 30 years, and the bond this team has in a very short period of time reminds me of the bond you have with your brothers in the armed services.”
“We haven’t playing or practicing that long, and we are a team – we care about each other.”
Unlike Readman, Tamez is a hockey newcomer.
“This is my second practice – I am a newcomer to the team and hockey,” Tamez said, as he gingerly headed out to the ice. “I was on a Navy submarine that flooded, and I suffer from PTSD. Just thinking about cold water really affects me, and if I am in cold water, I have problems.”
“With this team, this group of guys, I feel like I can talk about my problems and they will all understand because we’ve all been through something like the incident I experienced. We’re out having fun on the ice, but we are here for each other day or night.”