Hey there Beauts fans! How I’ve missed you.  I’ve been taking some time to myself lately, soaking in some much needed family time with my boys, so my apologies for not leaving a “leave of absence” notice for all of you.

I have been working on something different for this edition of Groff’s Garage. As you all know I have the deepest of gratitude for our service men and women.  For those who serve our country, some return and some make the ultimate sacrifice, I will continue to do my best to honor those who fight for the Red, White and Blue. 

I’m sure by now you are wondering what does this have to do with hockey?  Well, I’m about to tell you.  Did you know that there is a program for veterans to heal through hockey?  How has hockey blessed your life?  Has hockey saved your life?  I was able to sit down with a seven-year Army Sergeant combat veteran and ask him just how hockey saved his life.  Here is my interview with Army Sergeant (FMR) Jacob Wiesnet, forward for the Buffalo Sabres Warrior team.


 

Groff:  Thank you Sergeant (FMR) for taking the time with me to tell your story.  Why did you join the army?

SGT (FMR) Wiesnet: Growing up, I always admired the military. Like most boys, I played cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians.  I was always a fan of the more utilitarian “MacGyver” like characters.  After the snow melted in April 2005, I had the chance to go and do just that.  To be part of something huge, in hind sight, I knew I needed to do something with myself.  So I left to play with guns and march in columns.

Groff:  How old were you when you joined the Army?

SGT (FMR):  I was 19 when I enlisted on April 23, 2005.  I was a professional snowboarding instructor at Kissing Bridge and all the snow had melted.  Needed to get going.

Groff:  How did your life change when you joined the Army?

SGT (FMR):  Looking back I’d have to say that the Army forced me to open my eyes…to question everything…to always look for ways to better myself.  I was always told I was smart and talented, but I had no drive or goals for that matter.  The military instilled the gift of passion in my life.  Always pursue that.  At any cost, always be relentless.

Groff:  What is your greatest memory about your service?

SGT (FMR):  That is a hard question to answer honestly.  I spent six years of my young adult life away.  I’d have to say my favorite memories are all of them – because of all of them…they have led me to this moment in my life.  However, I’d have to give a shout out to SGT (FMR) Gerald Rudolph, aka Drew, my closest friend and brother.  We both together and separately have been on tremendous paths (don’t tell him this, but I look up to him as an example of how to be – relentless, loving and loyal).  The people are the greatest memory.

 Image courtesy of Snowfall Photography

Image courtesy of Snowfall Photography

Groff:  How did you get involved with playing hockey?

SGT (FMR):  Like most everyone from Buffalo I played pick up street hockey here and there, always appreciated the sport.  It was not until November 2013 that I fell in love with hockey.  I started skating on my flooded and frozen backyard rink.  I had an appointment at the VA hospital and met Pete H who told me that there was a program through the VA that used hockey to help veteran coming home to experience comradery that they once felt before.  So I sold my snowboard for hockey equipment and started skating with the Warriors.

Groff:  How has hockey changed your life?

SGT (FMR):  Without getting too personal, hockey came into my life at the perfect moment.  I had already bottomed out and nearly pushed my sleep timer for good.  Hockey gave me something that I had once thought was not going to come back into my life – passion.  It has allowed me to set small goals and work to achieve them.  In doing this I have opened the drive up to other parts of my life – education, relationships and so on.  Hockey saved my life.  I’ve now used my drive and talents to help expand hockey among the veteran community.  The Warriors is a team and family in a lot of ways, it is that dynamic that is important to a Soldier.

Groff:  What is your greatest hockey moment?

SGT (FMR):  I’ve only been playing hockey for three years now, so I don’t have many memories, but I have to say winning the National Championship in the Warriors A Division in 2015.  My father was there to witness it and I have to say that for me that was great because growing up, I never had done anything or been part of anything that he could be proud of; not until I joined the military.  Hockey just extended all of that.  He got to see me score a goal in the final game, we won 7 to 6 and beat the USA Warrior hockey team!  I was all go and no show back then.  So I know how special it was to be part of that team.  There were lots of great Warriors on that bench and we played like a team.  My family saw all of it and I was able to share it with my team. 

SGT (FMR) was all smiles during this question, I could tell that this was his greatest memory.

Groff:  Can you tell me about your team, the Buffalo Sabres Warriors?

SGT (FMR):  The Buffalo Sabres Warriors are a 501c3 sponsored by the Veteran Affairs and the Buffalo Sabres.  The organization’s focus is to bring in Veterans of all branches of the Military Service on one sheet of ice, healing and reintegrating back into the civilian world,  using hockey as a tool for veterans.  It is one of the greatest teams I’ve ever been a part of.  I can say without this program, I would not be riding the wave of success and drive.  It has been an amazing honor to play the greatest sport on earth with my brothers in arms.  The Warriors rosters included, three stand up teams and one sled hockey team.  We have several national titles and participate in community service.

 

Groff:  I have a few follow up questions, if you don’t mind answering them?

SGT (FMR):  I will do my best

Groff:  Since being home, what has been the most difficult about civilian life?

SGT (FMR):  Finding passion in things, after experience[ing] a war.  It has been difficult to find passion and drive for things.  I used to be artistic and snowboard.  I can’t seem to find myself back to those, but hockey has filled in nicely.

Groff:  If you could go back, would you?  Why or why not?

SGT (FMR):  Now that is an age old question.  I think every warrior wants to be surrounded by his chosen family.  I miss my brothers the most, and the weapons…who doesn’t enjoy shooting guns all day?  However, I’d have to say no, no I wouldn’t go back.  I decided in my heart that it was time to let others carry a torch and best for my personal recovery and growth that I moved on.  My job was training and leading soldiers, but now, now it’s helping my fellow veterans and for that I must decline.

Groff:  How do you help veterans?

SGT (FMR):  Having been through the process myself, what I mean by this is someone extended their hand to me and guided me, it is now my turn to do the same.  There are veterans who become overwhelmed by the process, I’m there to guide them – as my brothers were there for me.  The torch will continue to be passed.  On a side note, a veteran I met in a motorcycle club said something to me and it just kind of stuck with me, he said “never again will one generation of veterans abandon another”.


 

I want to thank SGT (FMR) Jacob Wiesnet for not only his courage and his service for our country, but also taking the time to share his story.  His is just one story of how hockey not only became part of his healing process but how this great sport saved his life as well.

This is going to be a multi-part story, I have already begun to interview other veterans and their involvement with hockey and how hockey has been part of their healing process.