Hockey Heals 22 raises awareness for veterans dealing with mental health struggles

The faces of local military service men and women who've tragically died by suicide surrounded one of the rinks at Advent Health Center Ice this weekend, as players for the Lightning Warriors rallied through 22 hours of non-stop hockey in their honor.

"We're trying to raise awareness about veteran suicide to get that number down," said the team's executive director and Marine Corps veteran, Chris Scangarello. "It's still Hockey Heals 22 because at the time it was 22 a day, and over a course of a year, that is an entire division of soldiers. The last reported number was a few years ago and is down to 17. So, these events are working, which is why we have to keep going." 

Not only do they pass pucks year-round to raise awareness for a priceless cause, but also to support each other.

As an entirely veteran-based team, Scangarello has watched the Lightning Warrior's roster grow to more than 170 players over the last few years.

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He told FOX 13 that they all feel a new sense of camaraderie and healing power when they put on a different helmet and uniform than they're used to.

"It can be difficult, right? You know, because you've lived a lifestyle in the military for so many years," Army veteran and Lightning Warrior Dan Lopez explained. "That goes away when you leave the military, and then you're wondering what's next."

"I didn't serve with any of these guys particularly, but we all served, and that bond is there regardless of whether we were in the same unit or not," Scangarello stressed. "Some of us were probably in the same war zone at the same time. So, we know you look to your left, you look to that right -that person has your back."

While the team has had plenty of success since debuting as the Tampa Warriors in 2017 and becoming a non-profit in 2020, a new partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning that was secured last November has allowed them to spread the word about their mission even more.

READ: Tampa team, veterans honor the greatest generation by retracing their steps on D-Day

It also helped them garner support from former Bolts, like Ryan Malone - whose foundation was one of the event's sponsors.

He also showed up to play himself, and barely left the ice all weekend.

"My grandpa was in the Korean War and I understand that freedom is not free," Malone said. "So to see the effect this team has on the men and women that learn to come play or play the game, is just really, what it's all about."

If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to civilians and veterans. If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat 

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