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February 28, 2010

US Olympic Hockey Team And Wounded Warriors

I was going to make this part of my US-Canada game post (3pm eastern on NBC) but I think it deserves some attention of its own.

US hockey GM Brian Burke made unabashed patriotism part of the teamís ethic from the start. To that end the US team has partnered with Operation Homefront to pair each player with a wounded warrior.

"The real heroes in America don't wear hockey uniforms, they wear police uniforms, they wear camo, they wear fire uniforms, and we want our players to understand that what we do is small potatoes compared to what those people do," Burke said Saturday.

So it should come as no surprise that there has been a military component to Team USA's preparations here in Vancouver.

Burke and USA Hockey joined forces with Operation Homefront and had a wounded soldier adopt each member of Team USA. The soldiers sent packages, including letters of encouragement to the players. Those packages were placed in the American dressing room at Canada Hockey Place earlier this week.

"We are very proud of the military in our country and it's part of what we do," Burke said.

If these American heroes helps wealthy athletes win a game, that's all well and good. The most important thing however is what it means to the heroes to be part of the Olympic hockey team. Consider Marine Staff Sergeant John Stanz.

Stanz returned home in December with life-changing injuries suffered in Afghanistan. Stanz has been selected as one of the 25 wounded warriors to be represented by members of the U.S. Olympic hockey team. Ryan Miller will skate for Staff Sergeant Stanz.

"Oh it's awesome. Obviously things don't go too well all the time for me, but that's one definite awesome thing," said Stanz.

Miller said, "Great for our club to show that we really care about what's going on with our armed forces."

...Each player is receiving inspirational gifts from his wounded warrior. Stanz sent Miller a Marine unit hat that says, "Millertime," a Marine challenge coin bearing John's name, a bullet bracelet like the one John Stanz always wears, and a letter.

Stanz said, "I told him good luck and everything and I'll be here rooting for him."

In turn, Stanz will get a jersey from Miller and other items, but of course, the biggest 'get' would be owning a little piece of an Olympic medal.

"I don't really understand why all this great stuff is happening to me, but definitely appreciate it, you know?" said Stanz.

And that right there is why the program is worth it no matter what else happens. Stanz is from Buffalo and says he hopes to meet with Miller after the games. I'm gonna bet win or lose today, that's a given.

This partnership isnít just pr or long distance pen pals. U.S. Army Ranger Captain Chad Fleming (who lost his leg in combat but returned to lead his men on a later tour in Iraq) was invited to address the team last night in preparation for todayís game.

No sooner did the U.S. Olympic Team earn a berth into the gold medal game at the 2010 Olympics, was U.S. Army Ranger Captain Chad Fleming called back into duty as a motivating force for those players and coaches in Vancouver.

After arriving in Seattle from Washington D.C. Saturday morning, Fleming rented a car and began the 125-mile trek to Vancouver in order to serve his countrymen -- yet again. Heck, a 125-mile car ride is nothing compared to what Fleming has been through.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that he got the phone call either -- he's been a regular speaker within the Team USA dressing room since orientation camp in August. There was no way he was missing this opportunity.

Following Friday's 6-1 victory over Finland in the tournament semifinals, Team USA General Manager Brian Burke and USA Hockey's Assistant Executive Director Jim Johannson contacted Fleming and Operation Homefront Chairman Rob Wolford and invited them to the team's private dinner on Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET).

"I just know they need me, so I have to get there," Fleming told NHL.com at the time he was some 60 miles from his destination in Vancouver.

You can read more about Operation Homefront here.

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posted by DrewM. at 12:02 PM

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