The Warrior Classic was formed to give a competitive outlet to U.S. military veterans with disabilities who play ice hockey. All 36 games from this year’s event will be streamed live on HockeyTV from City National Arena — the practice facility for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights — and the Las Vegas Ice Center.
Nick Pidge, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Reserve who suffered hearing loss while serving on the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, was all smiles after his Philly Flyers Warriors went 2-0 on the opening day of the tournament. The 27-year-old defenseman jumped at the chance to be part of the team when it formed in February in Philadelphia and was excited his squad could make the trip to Las Vegas.
“Oh, it’s been amazing,” said Pidge, who began playing hockey at age 8. “Just meeting all these guys and practicing, let alone playing a tournament, has been great and I’ve made a lot of friends. I can’t believe this type of thing exists, and it’s amazing these guys put this together for us.”
For J.J. O’Connor, who serves as chairperson for USA Hockey’s Disabled Section, the tournament is a chance to give back to those who have sacrificed for the country.
“It’s amazing to me to see the growth of the Warrior discipline over the last few years,” said O’Connor, who became paralyzed at age 16 after breaking his neck while playing hockey. “I’ve seen a lot of great things at USA Hockey through the years, but none of them make me more proud as an American and as a patriot than this Warrior discipline. Seeing veterans with a disability getting out there playing the game, enjoying themselves and bringing themselves together just like they did when they were serving the country really makes it feel as though I’ve done a good job.”
O’Connor put things in perspective and praised the players for their participation.
“We all have a disability, and we all love the game of hockey,” he said. “But it’s not your disability, it’s your ability who makes you who you are. I’m proud of everybody in this room, because you’re here still doing it and enjoying the game. Thank you for serving our country and for representing what it truly means to be an American.”
Mike Vaccaro, tasked with helping O’Connor run Warrior Hockey, said the tournament has been energized by Fator’s involvement.