There are so many amazing people involved in the game of hockey. Think about some of the folks that you have crossed paths with because of your involvement in the game at some level. I bet you have gotten to know some good folks. Am I right? I know that I have.
Through a shared passion of the game, I recently met one of the most inspiring hockey players in my life. Drew Hill is the captain of the USA Warriors, and he has a great story to tell. I was fortunate enough to learn a bit more about Drew and I wanted to share.
PondRocket: Drew, I can’t thank you enough for your time. Can you give us an introduction and tell us a little about yourself?
Drew Hill: My name is Andrew Hill, I've gone by Drew most of my life. I am a former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. Now, I am officially retired and enjoying a much more peaceful way of life. I am the Captain of the USA Warriors and Director of On Ice Operations. I have been in the position since Bob Banach and I founded the program after we realized we could do much more as a team and not just a single clinic for injured soldiers.
I was born in Southwest VA but because of my grandfather being military and family I travelled all over the closest things I've known to be home are Minnesota where my aunt and uncle live.
PR: What is your hockey background…where did you grow up playing?
DH: It started for me with just playing hockey with friends in Virginia and Minnesota and basically everywhere I found myself and continued to grow from there. I had touched on the sport in high school and on out. I've been playing on ice on and off since I was younger. I’ve always loved the fact of being on the ice and making so many complex parts come together for one simple goal.
I got out of playing while I was in the military due to deployments and lack of free time. Once I got injured in Afghanistan, I would say my roommate Andy Qualy and myself reignited the flame to play and started a rivalry that still continues to this day, although I believe I've got the edge on him now.
PR: Drew, can you tell us about your military background and service?
DH: I always knew that I would join the military in some regard. When I was 2 years old my grandmother had me in the pool and asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. I told her I want to be like Poppie (my grandfather) and join the service. So as soon as I got the chance to join, I did just that that. I joined March 2003 as a Cav. Scout and after training in Ft. Knox, they asked us who would be interested in aviation. I was one of the first ones with my hands up saying I would love to and it all became history from there. I’ve been deployed three times, once to Iraq and the other two to Afghanistan, where I was injured and medevac'd to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
PR: Would you mind touching on the injury you sustained?
DH: Sure, I was injured in Afghanistan. After my aircraft came under fire, I fell out of the helicopter about 15-20ft to the ground. I had snapped my ankle, broken my wrist and torn my thumb back to my arm. My lower back and neck were fractured and my right shoulder was torn out of socket.
PR: How long have you been a member of the USA Warriors?
DH: Since day 1. It all started with Bob asking me to get a group of guys to have a clinic for injured service members and has grown from there.
PR: What does it mean to you to play for the Warriors?
DH: It is everything and anything to me. To be able to get out there with the comical crew we have and forget about any physical limitations all of us have, only to go out and provide NHL highlight reel goals, spills and hits is just fun and amazing. Although I probably should mention most of the goals are on empty nets and spills and hits involve one person and the boards and artificial limbs flying for greater special effects.
On a serious note the guys mean everything to me. They look to me to lead them and make the best possible experience for them on and off the ice. I myself look to them as my brothers and sisters and it builds me up and makes me smile and grateful of whom I have around me at all times. As anyone knows, if these warriors need anything from me I will defend them with my last breath and make sure they have all the tools they need to succeed.
PR: You can center ANY two players on your line…any players throughout the entire history of the game. Who skates on your line and why?
DH: My two players I would pick are an easy decision and quite simply not known to the public. They are my two best friends who I met in Walter Reed and recovered with. Left wing would be Andy Qualy, my old roommate and hockey brother. Andy was injured in Iraq and medevac'd to Walter Reed a couple months after me.
The other is Drew 2, as he is known. He lost a one on one competition with me to earn the name Drew 2. His Name is Andrew Hillstrom. I would want him on my right wing because anything I can do he can do better, as he says, so I know if I miss a shot or mess up a play he will be eager to fix the problem and add it boasting table. He was also injured in Iraq and shipped to Walter Reed. He was my next door neighbor in the barracks. Why pick famous people when your brothers are the ones who make you a better person and player?
PR: What is your fondest hockey memory?
DH: My fondest hockey memory would have to be playing in Colorado Springs. I remember going on a snowboard trip with Andy. We had both finished riding the mountain and Andy's tour guide said he had to split because he was going to go play hockey down at the bottom of the mountain. Not missing a beat Andy asked the guides if he has any extra hockey gear. His response was yeah I have a little bit and there is a Play It Again Sports on the way.
So knowing that fact and luckily just getting my per diem for Afghanistan (which was all blown on beer and hockey gear, well worth it!), we headed out to the rinks in Basalt and Colorado Springs. Which to this day are two of the most beautiful rinks I’ve ever seen. I believe in the next 4 days we got about an hour of sleep and our feet never left a snowboard boot or hockey skate. What an amazing time!
PR: Drew, one of the inspirations behind the PondRocket brand is the tradition of the game. What is your favorite hockey tradition?
DH: My favorite tradition is the post game handshake. After sweating, bleeding and threatening to kill one another on the ice, you let it all go and congratulate the winner and each other. There is no greater respect you can earn or give someone after you played your hardest against them. To shake their hand and say good job, makes it all worth it and shows there is no loser in hockey.
PR: What does the game mean to you?
DH: The game is life. Without it, I would probably be walking with a cane and not near as good shape as I am now. The doctors said I would have trouble walking and have to get a possible fusion or amputation on my leg. After months of trying to do things in physical therapy and trying to get my life back, ultimately it was the love and healing touch of Anne Moore (My Physical Therapist) and a good old fashioned ice skate that forced me to build the muscles back up in my foot and ankle. So in the end I owe hockey an eternal gratitude for giving back my life and for that I will always strive to help others and teach them the game.
PR: Alright, you’re the final shooter in a tied shoot out to put the Washington Capitals into the playoffs…what is your go-to move?
DH: My favorite shot would have to be my go to move on this, however, it did let me down in our men's league final, sorry Turtles! I love to come in with as much speed as I can, deke a few times to keep the goalie moving around, fake a shot to the right draw the puck to my back and go upstairs with it.
PR: And finally, Drew, you can only have one…Olympic Gold or Stanley Cup. Which one & why?
DH: As with the Army and my way of doing things, it would have to be Olympic Gold. The Stanley Cup is an amazing award and always will be, but the chance to represent your country and where you were born and raised and taught your way of life…to play for them and give your all for everyone you know and love would be the greatest honor.
I appreciate your time and the conversation, Drew. It is an honor for myself and the PondRocket brand to be affiliated with you and the USA Warriors. You guys are not only inspiring but you all truly live the game. Thank you so much for your participation and for your service.
Through our partnership with the USA Warriors, PondRocket is donating 25% of apparel sales to the organization to assist with travel and equipment expenses. You can check out some gear here.
Please visit the USA Warriors to learn more or make a direct donation to the program.
PondRocket is a designer and marketer of branded hockey apparel inspired by the passion and tradition of the game. The Company’s products are sold throughout the US and Canada and are worn by all levels of players with appreciation for the lifestyle that the game of hockey provides. In addition to creating superior apparel, PondRocket partners with hockey oriented 501 (c) (3) organizations to assist the introduction and growth of the sport.