Calling All Warriors: Putting Vets on the Ice

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(ABC 6 News) – It doesn’t matter whether you’ve played hockey once or a hundred times in your life.

If you’re a veteran itching to get out on the ice there’s a band of brothers waiting for you to join their unit.

Growing up in Hayfield, sergeant first class Dustin Draeger didn’t quite get the opportunity to play hockey. But after four tours overseas with the military, he was looking to stay in shape after his service and found his answer on the ice.

“So, we started as med city warriors here in Rochester and we just did tournaments and then we teamed up with Minnesota Warriors, ” Draeger said. “I found that the teamwork in the locker room was very similar to the teamwork that we did over in the military.”

Draeger has put it upon himself to get the veteran community further invested in hockey. On Saturday, he hosted a battle event to raise money for the Rochester squad of the Minnesota Warriors; A hockey group that has vets skating all across the state.

“We have 300 service members that they support for the same mission, just to give them a brotherhood, get them back on the ice,” Draeger said.

Many returning vets struggle with mental health or adjusting to being disabled. But the warriors welcome all into their ranks, providing a much-needed haven to be one’s self.

“Starting to show up to these weekly practices and you go to one and then it turns into two and that turns into a month which turns into two months,” Travis Bennett, U.S. Army said. “Next thing you know, you’re three months down the road and you’ve been practicing every day and you just feel good, you feel great. it’s great.

“It’s my escape from my problems which you need occasionally with mental health.”

“Hockey is a secondary function of the warriors. the first function is healing, being together with a group, sharing the stories,” Justin Kaler, U.S. Air Force said. “Being able to come out here on the ice and skate and have a great time and hang out afterward? I mean, that’s just icing on the cake.”

Much like in active duty, no one soldier should ever go it alone. Draeger hopes Warriors hockey can continue to weave its way into the veteran community and be an evergreen opportunity to play and more importantly to find peace.

“Wherever there’s a need, it’s really easy and I just kind of like helping out,” Draeger said. “I’m actually just as happy running the clock and watching them play as I would be if I was playing.”

If you want more information or to find ways to support the Minnesota Warriors Rochester team, you can go to their Facebook page.