USA Warriors: “Hockey Was a Life-saver For Me”

Wounded warrior

Doug Johnson of PuckBuddys writes for Russian Machine Never Breaks.

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Drew Hill doesn’t sound like a guy whose life needed saving. He’s confident and friendly, with that ingrained Army habit of calling you “Sir,” and he loves talking about hockey. “Chippy,” it turns out, is one of his favorite descriptions for just about everything.

The Warriors pose for a photo after a recent game.

We spoke recently just as he stepped off the ice after practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. He was tired — “Sorry about being winded, Sir,” he said — but eager to talk about his team of military pals who don skates as often as they can. Whether they have all their limbs or not. After all, they have a big game coming up.

Hill is a member of USA Warriors Ice Hockey, a project of USA Hockey and the NHL, that gets wounded American combat veterans out on the ice, playing hockey, no matter if they’ve ever played before or not.

Hill was one of those who had. “I played off and on through high school and up from there,” he told me. “But when I got into the Army I had to back it off a bit. Then I got hurt in Afghanistan in 2006; I picked it back up. Hockey was a life-saver for me.”

In fighting, Hill’s right ankle was essentially shattered and had to be completely rebuilt. “I’ve got titanium and all kinds of metal down there,” he said. His rehabilitation was long and, as they often are, difficult. “Physical therapy was great, but it just wasn’t aggressive enough. I was still walking with a cane. Well, I strapped on a pair of skates and started skating around, and the therapy I got from being on the ice basically got me working my right leg again.”

Hill’s story is a familiar one to anyone who plays with, or knows of , Warriors Ice Hockey. Composed of wounded vets from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s part exercise, part amateur league, and part therapy. And this Thursday at 7pm, the puck will drop at Kettler on a big game — the Wounded Warriors vs. the Congressional hockey team.

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Tonight, I was watching the Sabres/Flyers game on Versus when the above commercial popped up on the screen. Talk about furious. I’d rather have Gary Bettman come to my house, dip his hand in a bucket of ice water and backhand me across the face than involuntarily have to watch this goal again. But there Dubinsky was on my TV. In all his mustached-glory. Raising his arms triumphantly, while Neuvy hangs his head in utter defeat. What a great juxtaposition.

I have two questions for the NHL after being forced to watch this. First, if they don’t want to risk showing favoritism to certain teams, why show goals from this playoff year? The point of the promotion is to show the NHL’s rich history. Have they already run out of moments from the past? Don’t they think that fans’ feelings might be just a little raw one day after a loss? Second, how is this goal any better than the marker Alex Semin scored in overtime in Game 1? So Dubi can get a commercial, but Sasha Minor can’t? Sure, maybe I’m being a little sensitive here, but this just rubbed me the wrong way. I get what you’re trying to do NHL marketing team, but please go back to the drawing board.

Update: Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet reports that Matt Cooke has been suspended by the NHL for the rest of regular season and the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

During Sunday’s Penguins vs. Rangers game, Matt Cooke was up to his old tricks. The 32 year-old former Capital delivered an elbow to the head of a defenseless Ryan McDonagh. The Ranger player went down like a sack of potatoes but fortunately was uninjured. Cooke received a five minute major for elbowing on the play and a game misconduct. As Daniel Tolensky points out, Cooke has played in 881 NHL games yet has only been suspended a total of ten matches in his career. The League obviously deserves some of the blame for allowing Cooke’s dirty play to continue without significant consequences for his actions.

A month ago, Pens owner Mario Lemieux criticized the NHL for being too soft on the Islanders’ players that participated in the mega-brawl between New York and Pittsburgh. Just a week ago, Sidney Crosby said the NHL needed to fight deliberate head-shots. But now their own player, Matt Cooke, is once again under Colin Campbell’s review. Below, we’ve chronicled Cookie’s dirty deeds throughout the years.

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Tomas Fleischmann

With Tomas Fleischmann’s arbitration hearing looming in the next few days it doesn’t look like the two sides will come to an agreement beforehand. GMGM moved pretty swiftly to avoid the courtroom drama with Fehr and Schultz indicating, at least to this writer, that the two sides are VERY far apart.

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Nicklas Backstrom is close to a new deal. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Nicklas Backstrom wants to dominate in DC Long Term. The Russian Machine approves. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Nicklas Backstrom is probably the best center in hockey now, but we’ve been worried about what will become of him next season. Well, not anymore.

As Swedish site Expressen.se reports, Backstrom is very close to a new deal with the Caps, in which the details are being finalized now. According to the Swedes, the Caps will retain Backstrom for 7-10 years, earning 5.5 to 6 million per year. Backstrom’s agent characterizes the deal:

You should understand that the new contract must match the level of a player who will become a superstar.

Express.en says the deal is close to being done and should be finalized this week. If it’s not, the Russian Machine is prepared to scribble the thing out in Sharpie pen and run the contract over to Backy’s house ourself.

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Red Square in Moscow, Russia

Surprisingly, It is tough to be a Caps fan in Russia.

Fedor Fedin lives in Moscow, Russia, and he’s a huge fan of the Washington Capitals. Personally, that’s awesome. I love it. But there’s one giant problem, from our collective perspective here in America, we assume that it’s easy following the team overseas. But the reality is, it’s quite the opposite. We asked Fedor to talk about some of his experiences and let us know what it’s really like. I hope this opens some eyes. Welp, take it away, buddy:

Some Americans think following the Capitals in Russia is easy. It actually is quite hard and you are made fun of quite a lot. Here are some of the problems:

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Mike Green’s Second Geico Commercial

I’m not sure if I should ask, but if you haven’t gotten enough of the Geico Cavemen – and Lord Knows how could you not – here is Geico’s Second Commercial featuring Canada’s Best Defenseman, Mike Green. If you ask the Russian Machine for his opinion, this commercial is substantially better than the first, only because Mike Green is actually doing what he’s good at: playing hockey and mugging at the camera. No more of that silly “acting.”

So yes, this is a good hockey commercial. Why? Great dramatic lighting. Sweet Trick Shots. And a weird, almost confusing cameo by Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in the final seconds. Geico – you must have made a mistake – because this commercial is a pleasure to watch. As we did last time, let’s vote. How did Greener do? Let us know below:

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Wednesday Webhits: The Frost King’s Best Links Of The Week

Week two of The Frost King’s Webhits – out of 156* – has links looking at how well the Capitals’ goalies perform on the penalty kill, the diversified scoring of Washington’s forwards, which players excelled at scoring in the past decade, whether defense still wins championships, and a discussion about reforming the shootout system. Enjoy!

* My contract apparently goes through the end of time, which latest info says will be December 21st, 2012. Plan to start (and finish) your Christmas shopping a little early that year!

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Wednesday Webhits: The Frost King’s Best Links Of The Week

Daniel Moroz, or The Frost King as some of us know him, will for now on be providing a weekly segment called “Wednesday Webhits” from now until the end of time. Trust me. He’s signed a contract in blood. He can’t get out of it.

This weekly post will deliver powerfully interesting links that will make you laugh, cry and maybe even kiss that dumb brain goodbye.

This week learn about ties, an awesomely great fighter, why EA Sports hates the Capitals and how Jose Theodore’s current flashy statistics might be a little misleading… Take it away Daniel!

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Russian Machine’s First Post

If you’re here at this blog right now, you’re here for a reason. It’s either because I managed to goad you into somehow clicking on one of my links or because you genuinely have a large passion for hockey and can’t get enough of it. If you’re one of the latter, then I totally get you.

Why do I get you? Well, because I’m a hockey addict too. My parents get it (when I used to live at home, I’d yell at them if they didn’t have the Caps game on during dinner), my girlfriend puts up with it (no dates on game days) and my roommate worries about me (he frequently asks “did they score or is there a dead body in your room?”)

So how did I get to this point? Let’s go back in the Way Back Machine. Like every other kid who loved sports, I watched SportsCenter every morning religiously before getting on the bus for school. And generally, I’d be excited about the NBA highlights, the NFL highlights and kinda get bored by the hockey highlights which were – let me add – always shown at the end of the show. I seriously remember having an inner thought as an 8 year of “Who is Pierre Turgeon and why does his name sound so funny?” I didn’t really get what a hat trick was, I didn’t understand the fighting, and it just seemed like a boring sport to watch. And don’t even get me started on the weird standings point system. The Patrick Division? Two-Line Passes? What the hell? Admittedly it was a hard sport to learn as a youngster.

This all changed when one night I came downstairs to find my older brother Brandon watching a Capitals game in October 1995. At the time, I was a scrawny 11 year old who looked up to my brother – 3 years my senior – for everything. I remember sitting there beside him having trouble finding the puck along the boards while guys would forecheck. It kinda made my brain hurt. But I kept watching because my brother was. At some point, I don’t remember when, I saw this Big #24 guy (who ended up being Capitals legend Mark Tinordi) crunch another player hard (and I mean hard) into the boards behind the goal. “WOAHHHH!!!! THAT’S AWESOME!” I screamed. “Isn’t that a penalty?!” I asked my brother. “Nope, that’s legal in this sport.” Instantly I was intrigued.

After all these years that’s all I remember of the first NHL game I watched, a huge Mark Tinordi check. But after that night, I started watching more and more. So much more that my parents took notice. On Christmas Day 1995, after my brother and I opened all our gifts by the tree, we got to our stockings. What’s inside you ask? Capitals tickets with my dad and brother to go see them play the Rangers on January 6th!! What was my reaction? Kinda like this.

Sadly I don’t remember much of that Capitals game beyond the fact that a few minutes before the second intermission, I left my dad and brother and went down to the lower bowl of the USAir Arena. This was after Steve Konowalchuk scored two awesome goals 44 seconds apart. As the players walked back towards the locker room I yelled “Kono, are you going to get a hat trick?” He came up to me, gave me a high five and said “You bet I am!”

Excitedly I ran back up to my seats and told my brother and dad. I couldn’t believe an athlete just talked to me!! My brother and dad were skeptical it even happened. They remained skeptical until Konowalchuk scored his third goal of the night in the third period and I jumped up and down screaming “I told you so!! I told you so!!”

The Caps ended up tying the Rangers that game 4-4, but that didn’t matter. The point was that after that small gesture by Steve Konowalchuk, it made me feel such a huge connection to the team.

Since then, I’ve tried to watch every Capitals game on TV during the season, go to as many practices as I can and go to as many games as I could afford. I’ve been to 11 straight Opening Night games at Verizon/MCI Center. I have 7 different Caps player jerseys. I have a booklet full of autographed cards which includes two leaflets full of Peter Bondra autographs.

And so now, naturally, it’s time to take the obsession to the next level: a hockey blog.

After my success with Matt Wieters Facts, I thought it was the right time to bring together an extremely talented and diverse group of writers including musician and information architect Peter Hassett, Carroll County Times Features Writer Brandon Oland, and Camden Crazies blogger and resident Russian Translator Daniel Moroz to bring you another entertaining look at the NHL’s most interesting and dominant team. Expect to laugh and be intrigued. That’s for sure.

Anyways, if you remember yourself crying and having a sleepless night over a horrible playoff loss or tearing up all your Detroit Red Wings trading cards and throwing them in the toilet because you’re so upset that they beat your favorite team in the Stanley Cup Finals, then this blog’s for you. And even if you haven’t done any of that, this blog’s for you anyways. I hope you enjoy our content in the months to come. Please follow us on Twitter, and if you’ve got the time, tell us how you fell in love with hockey below in the comments!