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Just days before stepping onto the ice to play in their first game, members of the Blues Warrior Hockey Club received their new team jerseys from a handful of St. Louis Blues legends.


Bob Plager, Bernie Federko, Barret Jackman, Bruce Affleck, Colton Parayko and Blues Chairman Tom Stillman were among the Blues on hand to present the jerseys to the retired, injured and disabled military veterans that will make up the Blues Warrior Hockey Club.


I want to thank all of you for your service to your country, Stillman told the club after their team practice on Thursday at Centene Community Ice Center. You have sacrificed greatly and your families have as well to keep us safe, to ensure our freedom. We re forever grateful. It s an honor for the Blues organization to have this group, with your service background, wearing the Blue Note as you play, whether it s for practice, Warrior tournaments or wherever you are. It is an honor for us and it means a lot that you re going to be wearing the Blue Note.


We ve been working to create this team and give everyone uniforms again, just like when they were in the military in active duty, said Blues Warrior Hockey President Nathan Laupp. This program is bigger than hockey – it s about creating a community and serving and supporting veterans through the sport.


The Warrior Hockey program is part of the Blues ongoing Hockey is for Everyone initiative. The program initially launched in July and began with players, but over just a few short months, has expanded and now has enough players from a wide variety of military backgrounds to make up three full teams.


Blues Warrior Hockey was originally expected to play its first game in September, but the COVID- pandemic pushed the debut back until the Oct. weekend. The club will compete against other teams in the USA Hockey Warrior Hockey discipline in national and regional tournaments.


The team has been practicing together at Centene Community Ice Center since July. On Thursday, Blues Assistant Coaches Sean Ferrell and Jim Montgomery ran the club through a final tuneup for the weekend s debut before enjoying breakfast courtesy of Schnucks and Dunkin .


The organization is especially important to Ferrell, who has three children that have served or are serving in the military.


Through my children, I understand it s tough when you re on deployment and then you come home and the people you were so close to are no longer near you, Ferrell said. It s no different than what we do as a hockey team in the regular season. When it s over, you long for the structure, camaraderie and the friendships that you ve built together. There are a lot of parallels between our world and their world, it s just the stakes are a lot different. For someone like myself, to have an opportunity to even be on the same sheet of ice as the veterans in the Warrior program by running a practice, it s a complete honor. You can t thank them enough.


Buff Burkel, a retired United States Air Force colonel who has been stationed all over the world during -plus years of service, said she is amazed at the amount of progress the team has made since practices began.


To watch the improvement over the last couple of months is powerful, Burkel said. To see guys that have never skated before get out there and get after it, it s really cool. You get to spend an hour on the ice with these guys, and I ll tell you, this program has probably saved people s lives by giving them something to look forward to.


Jared McGown served in the Marine Corps from – and had multiple tours in Iraq. He was wounded by an IED in but has found new purpose with the Blues Warrior Hockey Club.


Some days are harder than others dealing with my injury, but there are things that help me cope and help me have better days, and hockey is one of them, McGown told stlouisbluesm. There are a couple of things I like to do, and two of them is serving veterans and playing hockey. With this, I get to do both. The more I see these guys and gals and the better they get on the ice, it s really rewarding.


It s honestly a dream come true, McGown added. I think back as a kid, my dream was always to be a Blues player. To be able to get presented a Blues jersey and wear the Note and play while representing the marine corps, it s such an honor. I ll definitely wear it proud.

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