The US Navy SEAL, NY State High School & USA Hockey National Champion goalie wanted to start a USA Hockey Warrior Hockey Program here in South Florida for disabled veterans and wanted the Florida Panthers to be his partner. Warrior Hockey is a program under the USA Hockey Disabled Disciplines that offer veterans an opportunity to get recreational therapy and comradery through playing ice hockey.
Gabe and I met in 2018 at the ice rink in Pompano Beach, Florida. Gabe told me he is a US Navy SEAL (however, he did not tell me he is a SEAL Team 10 Plankowner, a founding member) and he was a goalie. Always looking for goalies, Gabe was a great find! He was a quiet guy and didn’t say a whole lot, unless you became friends, we did.
Gabe shared how the men and women who protected our freedoms and the American way of life were affected by the job they did. So many returning vets have severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and emotional stress from their service. Mental illness is not something you see and usually is not talked about.
The loss of being part of a team and the structure of the military affects returning vets in different ways. These tough men and women are experiencing conditions upon their return to a civilian life without a plan or a team that few of us civilians are aware of.
Gabe introduced me to the USA Hockey Warrior program he and another vet, Nick Butterworth, were working on. They were hopeful the Florida Panthers would get involved. Gabe asked if I would be interested and I told him “I was in”. I was confident that the Florida Panthers, with their commitment to the “Heroes Among Us” would be interested, and together we could get this done!
Together, we made application with SAHOF (the USA Hockey Florida affiliate) and the Florida Panthers Community Champions Foundation for grants to provide initial funds for the program. On September 4th, 2019, we received news that we were accepted by SAHOF as a Warrior Team and that the Florida Panthers Community of Champions Foundation had approved our grant request! In addition, the Panthers Warriors are a sub-licensee of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club.
Unfortunately, Gabe passed away earlier that day, on September 4th, and was not able to hear the news that we accomplished our initial mission. We were devastated that Gabe will not be in the net, making amazing saves and leading us to victories. However, we needed to wipe our tears away and continue our mission to begin the Panthers Warriors Hockey Program, honor Gabe’s legacy and get to Las Vegas for the 2019 Warrior Classic.
Not only did we make it to our 1st tournament (thanks to Nick’s veteran connections), but we came back as Champions!
As you can see from the photo, Gabe was with us and will be there at every game we play!