Unbreakable Bonds

Inaugural Toyota USA Hockey Warrior National Championship Brings Warrior Hockey Community Together

Mike Marshall made the most of his experience at the inaugural Toyota USA Hockey Warrior National Championship. 

“It’s pretty awesome,” Marshall said. “Everybody’s hanging out, having a good time.”

USA Hockey’s Warrior Hockey Discipline is dedicated to injured and disabled United States military veterans. Interest in warrior hockey has rapidly grown across the country, and USA Hockey launched the inaugural Toyota USA Hockey Warrior National Championship this year to bring more warrior players together for a weekend full of hockey and camaraderie. The event brought over 750 players across 34 teams from around the country to the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, N.J., April 11-14, to compete for top warrior hockey honors in the United States in six different tiers. 

Marshall is a volunteer head coach for four Colorado Warriors teams. The Wisconsin native moved to Colorado in 2021 and has been working with the Colorado Warriors program ever since. After being part of the organization as an assistant coach for two years, this season was his first as head coach, taking on the role for all four teams. 

“There’s a lot of life lessons from working with these amazing men and women,” Marshall said. “This is a way for them to heal, through playing hockey, and a way for them to bond. They can have that camaraderie that may be missing in some aspects of civilian life, and they can reignite that feeling of belonging to something greater than themselves.”

We have people who wouldn’t be here today without warrior hockey. I truly mean that.”

—Charles “Dino” Beaton (Colorado Warriors)

Marshall led Colorado to the Elite Tier and Tier II titles, and he coached teams in four of the six divisions overall. Along with all the on-ice success, the Colorado Warriors program has become a tight-knit community for players and Marshall. 

“I love seeing these guys,” Marshall said. “They’re not just players, they are like family to me, and if they need anything, I’ll call them. I’ll drop anything that I have going on for them. We win together, we lose together, we laugh, we cry together.

“It’s more than just hockey. It’s created a family dynamic, and it’s pretty special.”

Marshall sees the great camaraderie that has been built between teams from all over the country when they come together for events like this and the USA Hockey Warrior Classic in the fall. 

“We all go to battle, and they are the enemy on the ice, but we are all friends off the ice,” Marshall said. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve beaten us. Off the ice, there’s great camaraderie around the rink.

“It’s all just a place for everyone to come together to heal. A lot of these players, they’ve known each other for a long time, from serving together or playing hockey, and it’s just really awesome to see them all come together, and the event has been top notch.”

Charles “Dino” Beaton plays for Marshall on Colorado’s Elite Tier squad. For veterans like Beaton, warrior hockey has provided an outlet to meet people with similar life experiences. 

“It’s kind of like motorcycle clubs in a way. After World War II, veterans started these clubs and they’d ride together, and this is kind of the same thing for when you get out of the military,” said Beaton.

“You’re around like-minded people, so you have a safe space. You can make the same joke or reference and everyone gets it. We immediately fall in line, so it makes it a lot easier.”

Beaton echoed Marshall in emphasizing just how strong the community has become, both inside and outside of the Colorado Warriors program. 

“We obviously want to win, but the best part is hanging out with the guys, getting away from work. It’s really nice to hang out with everyone, not just our team, but all the other teams too. I see guys from the Philly team, the St. Louis Team, the Lone Stars. That’s my favorite part.”

As warrior hockey continues to grow with a new national championship format at the forefront, the bonds off the ice remain just as impactful. 

“It’s something that sounds ridiculous, but it’s so true,” Beaton concluded. “We have people who wouldn’t be here today without warrior hockey. I truly mean that.”

Issue: 
2024-05

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