Monday, April 4, 2011

Minnesota launches second U.S. hockey team of disabled veterans


VADNAIS HEIGHTS, Minn. - When Jason Steller puts on his hockey jersey he does it with arms held low, below his shoulders. "I slip it off to the side here," he explains. "This arm stays down and it's good to go."

A shoulder injury in Iraq, courtesy of a mine, put the former Navy lieutenant, first in the hospital -- and now on the ice.

Steller's team, the Minnesota Warriors, is the second hockey team in the country made up of disabled veterans. On Sunday afternoon they played the first: the USA Warriors, a team born three years ago at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Minnesota's version of the Warriors began practicing last November.

"I had a big worry," recalls Joe Scavo of Blaine, a veteran of wars in Iraq and Kosovo, who came home with permanent damage to his right foot.

"There's certain things I can't do, like I can't stop to the right," he says. "But I can still stop to the left. And you just adapt."

Sunday's 6 to 4 victory by the Warriors would lead one to believe the Minnesotans have adapted quite nicely.

"Everyone's equal here. Everyone's injured and everyone's having a good time," said Steller.

The Minnesota Warriors is free to all veterans with a service related injury. Costs are covered by donations and grants.

Sue Hanson says her son Peter - a Marine injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2004 - looks forward to every practice, "just to go and be with these guys and vent some of their frustration from the war.

On Sunday it was a contest with no one to root against.