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Massena plays Ogdensburg in Wounded Warrior Project benefit hockey game

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MASSENA - Today’s high school hockey game between Massena and Ogdensburg is about more than who has the most goals at the end of three periods.

It’s also about supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.

The game, which begins at 2 p.m. at the Massena Arena, will include a 50-50 raffle to support the Wounded Warrior Project - Warriors in Transition Unit from Fort Drum. Pledge cards are also available for $1 from any varsity hockey player or through your local VFW and American Legion posts. They are also available at the Massena Arena office and will be sold at today’s game.

A number of pledge cards already fill one wall in the Massena High School lobby.

“We’ve been able to sell a bunch of them, some at the Amvets, American Legion and VFW. It’s kind of important for me. We want to recognize local veterans also and have them take part in it,” Massena head coach Michael J. Trimboli said.

He said there will also be a sled hockey demonstration between the first and second periods. That has been coordinated through Mark J. McKenna of Mac Sports Ltd., Canton, a representative of the Wounded Warrior Project - Warriors in Transition Unit.

Mr. Trimboli said this will be the second year they’ve worked with Mr. McKenna to support the program.

“Last year I kind of established a partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and varsity hockey. He (Mr. McKenna) is big into the disabled hockey program,” he said. “Last year a few of those guys (from Fort Drum) came over. They had a sled on display and talked to people.”

Some Fort Drum sled hockey players will again be on hand today, and those who attend the game will have an opportunity to meet the soldiers and see the sled hockey demonstration.

Like last year, camouflage jerseys will replace the traditional home jersey for the Raiders players, according to Mr. Trimboli.

“We purchased the camouflage jerseys through Mac Sports,” he said.

Mr. Trimboli said it was a cause worth supporting.

“We want to maintain and build off this fundraiser to show our appreciation for not only the veterans over there fighting, but for those who made the sacrifice and were wounded in action. They fight for the freedoms we enjoy, including playing hockey. We have (the players) learn that,” he said.

The cause is also near to Mr. McKenna’s heart. A civil engineer, he was working on the gym at Fort Drum two years ago and saw a young soldier come into the gym in a wheelchair. The soldier couldn’t reach the pull-up bar or dumbbells to do curls because a wrestling mat was in the way.

“He did a 180 and went out the door,” he said.

Mr. McKenna said he talked to the gym manager to find out what opportunities they had for disabled soldiers, such as wheelchair basketball or sled hockey. He learned that there was no organized activity available, including sled hockey in which players maneuver down the ice using specially-made sleds that cost about $550 each.

“She had never heard of sled hockey,” he said.

Having coached hockey in the past, Mr. McKenna said he began thinking about organizing a sled hockey team at Fort Drum. He met with officials from the Warrior Transition Unit and worked with a physical therapist and began looking for 15 to 20 members who wanted to learn the sport.

He contacted USA Hockey, as well as coaches at Clarkson, St. Lawrence, SUNY Potsdam and Syracuse to seek their assistance with equipment donations. Mr. McKenna said he also contacted the Wounded Warrior Project to see if they could help.

“We also wanted to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project,” he said.

Three of their main sponsors were the Knights of Columbus, VFW in Canton and Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our goal was to raise enough money the first year to buy 24 sleds. We actually raised enough money to buy 30 sleds. It turned out unbelievable,” Mr. McKenna said.

A clinic was held to introduce the sport, and a team from Fort Drum was formed last year.

“We had enough interest. We had ice donated from SUNY Canton and additional equipment from the colleges again. I donated my own money to get other equipment,” he said.

“I don’t think we do enough for these soldiers. Some guys have missing limbs, some guys have shrapnel, some guys have PTSD. A lot of guys never thought they’d be able to play hockey again after their disability. A lot of guys who never played hockey before found a sport they could embrace for team-building and to get some physical exercise. I don’t ask what happened; I ask where do you want to go from here,” he added.

During today’s game, Mr. McKenna said they’ll show spectators what sled hockey is all about. The money raised through the 50-50 raffle and sale of pledge cards will help with team travel and lodging expenses when they attend tournaments, as well as support the Wounded Warrior Project, he said.

“We have gone to tournaments in Albany, Syracuse and Pennsylvania. The money raised does go to the Wounded Warrior Project as well as our group locally,” he said.

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