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.
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.