Hopefully you were able to catch our podcast interview with John Laursen from USA Warriors Hockey. If not, you can listen on our podcast page! While Caleb did a great job interviewing John, I wanted to dive a little deeper, and ask some questions of my own. Below is my interview with John. Please enjoy, and if you could, help support USA Warriors Hockey by following the links at the end of the interview.
You mentioned on our podcast that one of the things you love about USA Warriors Hockey is the camaraderie because it reminds you of your time serving in the military. It seems like that would be a big draw for a lot of your members. What other aspects of USA Warriors do you feel helps bring in new members?
The camaraderie is just one of a number of the benefits of the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program that draws veterans to the team. While the reasons may vary for each, overall the team provides both a physical and mental therapeutic release. Just like any hockey player, being on the ice is just a way to relax, let go and have fun. For a veteran who may think that their injury or disability prohibits them from taking part in a team sport, the USA Warriors shows them that is simply not true. If it is standing or sled (sledge), hockey is truly for everyone.
The Warriors program, the coaches and players on the team take pride having hockey played in an environment that is adapted to the level of ability of any veteran on the ice, from those who have played college puck to those who are just starting out.
USA Warriors has partnered with the Caps, Blackhawks, and Blue Jackets, that’s amazing! Do you have plans to work with more NHL teams? If so, can you give us some hints as to what you'll be doing?
Right now we do not have any “set” plans in the works with NHL teams to my knowledge. I’m just a tendy, the guy who volunteers to stand in front of frozen pieces of rubber being shot at my face. But keep an eye out for a Warriors trip to New York City early next season though, something near and dear to my heart I have been pushing for that may be coming together!
What is your most cherished memory as a member of USA Warriors?
My time with the Warriors has honestly been unreal, in a sense, for a kid who grew up on the ice and didn’t make it to the show, at times I need to take a step back and just take it in. From getting to skate with legends I looked up to growing up such as Brian Leetch and Mike Eruzione to skating in NHL rinks around the league today and spending time in the locker rooms with guys like Ovechkin and Dubinsky. To facing shots from today’s stars like Jon Toews and getting bits of advice from pro-tendy’s like Scotty Darling and having a 4 year “tradition” with the Blackhawks to have a pre-game skate with them before every out door game, the ride has just been unreal. For a kid who never made the show, joined the Army and well, ended up at Fort Belvoir Regional Hospital. Just amazing. I am beyond grateful to everyone, the volunteers who put every minute of their free time into planning these things, everyone who donates to make these things possible and the DAV and Fisher House who have been huge supporters over the years.
With all that being said though, there is one annual event that means more to me than any game. The one time every year I get to skate with my heroes. A youth Special Hockey team in New Jersey called the Brick Star. This year will be the 3rd time I am bringing the Warriors up to NJ back to my home town to skate with them. These kids are amazing! For the Warriors, it’s an event they look forward to all year round. The beginning of each season I start hearing “Laursen, when are we playing the Stars in Jersey again?” It’s a game that really moves us emotionally. When we play the Stars, just the seeing smile on their faces it’s easily the most rewarding thing I do with the team all season.
You were a goalie growing up, well before you joined USA Warriors. Can you talk about the differences and similarities between sled hockey goalie and stand-up hockey goalie?
Since I don’t play sled goalie that may be a tad hard. I have however played as a standing goalie for a sled game. The pucks are quite hard to track. Knowing most of the guys on the sled team, they have no problem trying to run me with those sleds either!
I have skated in a sled once. It was an experience for sure. While you may think it is all arm, my abs had the majority of the workout. Somewhere in the CBJ files there is a good video of myself and another one of the guys on the team strapping Jody Shelly into a sled and putting him through the ringer. He lasted about 45 minutes before he called it quits. (video here)
You mentioned that a lot of the members of USA Warriors never played hockey before. How quickly would you say they pick up the strategy and rules of the game?
As with youth hockey, every player is different with how long it takes to pick up the game. We have some guys playing who grew up watching hockey who already know and understand the game. We have some guys who never played, but go to every pickup and stick time beyond practice. Then we have some guys we just come to the Warriors weekly practices. Overall we hope to have each new player in a game within a year of first stepping on the ice.
Living in Columbus (and seeing the Ohio Warriors around at rinks), I’ve noticed sled hockey has been growing at a rapid pace over recent years, do you feel that USA Warriors Hockey plays a part in the growth of the sport?
Within the veteran community I would say the USA Warriors has been huge with expanding both sled and standing hockey. The USA Warriors also supports the annual Hockey on Your block program in Chicago hosted by the First Goal Foundation which brings hockey to underprivileged youth in Chicago. While hockey is indeed growing within the United States, the USA Warriors continues to support the growth of hockey with the Veteran population.
USA Warriors offers a team atmosphere, camaraderie, and support for veterans who have both visible and/or invisible wounds. Do you find that those who are active with the team and organization find it as a source of stability for them while they adjust to civilian life?
The Warriors – we’re a family. We can tell if someone if someone is having problems adjusting, or general personal problems. We all have each other’s backs. That’s the one thing most veterans lose when they leave the military, but something that we provide in the locker room. It’s a unit with that same sense of family a unit has, if not closer. Personally, hockey and the Warriors saved my life. After I got back, I was lost. Being on the ice gave me a chance to just get away from everything, from life and the guys on the team, they were there to pull me out of that slump and get my head on straight again. Get my life back in order.
There is life after the military. No matter what has happened down ranger, there are people like you and there is always someone you can talk to.
If someone is reading this article and interview, and would like to support USA Warriors Hockey, but doesn’t live near an area where USA Warriors have a team or program, how can they help you?