Michigan UP Veterans Hockey Team preps for first home game, Battle of the Bridge

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WLUC) - The new Michigan U.P. Veterans Hockey Team is ready to show off its talent at its first-ever home game on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Dee Stadium in Houghton.

The Michigan U.P. Veterans Hockey Team will face the Saginaw Spirit Warriors, another all-veteran team, at Dee Stadium in Houghton on Saturday, Feb. 22.

The Battle of the Bridge takes over the stadium, located at 700 E. Lakeshore Dr., against the Saginaw Spirit Warriors. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. All the proceeds will be donated to the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans in Marquette.

General admission is $5. Veterans and military families get in for free. You can purchase tickets ahead of time here.

Aside from the hockey game, there will also be a wide array of resources available for veterans and their families, including Michigan Works!, the Department of Health and Human Services, the D.J. Jacobetti Home for Veterans, the Escanaba Veterans Center, the Michigan Army National Guard, and the Houghton-Keweenaw County Department of Veterans Affairs Service Office.

Follow the team on Facebook here.

For more information about joining the team, contact Jon French at 906-370-5995 or jfrench@up.net.

Continue reading below for more details about the team.
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One thing that can certainly bring Yoopers together is hockey.

But this hockey team shares a bond beyond the ice: they’re all military veterans.

"Our guys just jell,” said Team Captain Jon “Frenchy” French. “You put a lot of hockey guys in a room, they're going to jell. You put a bunch of veterans in a room, they're going to jell. You put them together, you're going to have massive chaos that's just a lot of fun."

French was contacted last fall by an old friend and fellow vet from Saginaw asking if the U.P. had a veteran hockey team.

At the time, the answer was, “No,” but it didn’t take long to put a team together.

It’s made up of veterans from all branches of the military from all across the U.P.—from Calumet to Sault Ste. Marie.

As one could imagine, there wasn’t much time to get on the ice to practice together before the first game.

"The first time that we ever all got together and went and played hockey was actually game one of 'Battle of the Bridge,'" French said.

On January 18th, the team traveled to Saginaw for game one of the “Battle of the Bridge” to play the Saginaw Spirit Warriors, an all-veteran team sanctioned through a division of USA Hockey known as Warrior Hockey.

The U.P. team delivered the “W."

"I was a little intimidated walking in there,” said French. “All their equipment matched, and they looked very good, so we were a little intimidated going into it, but we came out and put on a pretty good showing for the U.P."

"We were moving pretty good, good breakouts, scored some goals, we were winning pretty handily after the first period, and then we kind of pulled back a little bit and just had a blast," added Assistant Team Captain Joshua Bean.

Bean, an Army National Guard veteran, hadn’t played hockey in almost 18 years, but he says joining the team has given him something to look forward to that he hasn’t felt in a very long time.

"The camaraderie, you miss it a lot coming from once you get out of the military. So, that was a huge part of it is just getting with the guys,” he said. “A lot of them I don't even know. A lot of them I do know, but we clicked right away, and that was by far the best part."

That camaraderie is something they all say drew them in, because it’s more than just a hockey team. It’s a resource for veterans to connect with each other.

"There's a lot of vets that don't know what help is available to them until they talk to another vet. Every other vet on this team knows something that I don't know," said Head Coach Tom Glass.

He served in the Army, Marines, and Air Force for 23 years but says in more recent years, he hasn’t socialized much. Glass calls being part of the team a healing experience.

A commonly-referenced 2013 study from the Department of Veterans Affairs cites 22 veteran suicides every day.

Glass says this new team can address that.

"There's 22 vets a day that, you know, take their own lives. On the days that we have hockey games and the days leading up to them, my guys aren't going to be one of those 22 because they've got a hockey game to go to or a practice to go to. They've got something to look forward to," Glass said.

“All of us as veterans, we've all got different skill sets, but one thing we have in common is that we have a lot to give yet after our service to our country, and that's what we want to do," added French.

And this is just the beginning for the team.

French said any veteran is welcome to join the team, no matter where you live in the U.P. He said the team will plan practices and host games in arenas all across Upper Michigan.