U.S. hockey players inspired by notes from wounded soldiers

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – At Olympic Orientation Camp in Chicago in August, players on the U.S. hockey team heard plenty about wars, battles, and being part of a band of brothers. They weren't sports cliches; they were inspirational words from Army Rangers and Navy SEALs who had been wounded in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"They talked about how much they come together with their brothers in battle. They alluded to the fact that we're kind of like them, in that sense," recalled winger Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks.

Now playing in the Winter Olympics, and preparing for a critical game against arch rival Canada on Sunday afternoon, Ryan and his teammates are still being inspired by uniformed countrymen. According to the Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Minn., a "wounded warrior" from each player's hometown, university, or NHL city has "adopted" a player during the Games:

A personal package was provided containing a letter of encouragement and various other items, even bullets taken from the soldier's [body] to be placed in the player's locker.

Some of the NHL players have worked with troops before, as when defenseman Brian Rafalski and goalie Ryan Miller (above) greeted U.S. military personnel returning from tours of duty in Dallas three years ago.

The relationship between the team and the military was fostered by Team USA general manager Brian Burke, who said honoring the soldiers and using their words for inspiration is an essential part of the program. "We're very proud of the military in our country, and it's what we do. The real heroes in our country don't wear hockey uniforms," he said.

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson said the correspondence gave the players a sense of being on a mission.

"Our soldiers always have to go onto foreign soil and fight and get the job done. They always do. It's kind of our theme: We're on foreign soil and we have to get the job done. If we can come close to the success that our [soldiers] do, it will be tremendous."

Ryan said some of the troops whom the team met in the summer "came in to make speeches" during the Games. "These are wounded warriors. These are guys that have lost things. It's very inspirational and puts things in perspective."

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