22-hour hockey game aimed at raising awareness for veteran suicide prevention

The number 22 had multiple meanings at a hockey event in Wesley Chapel Friday evening. For 22 hours straight, veterans are playing hockey to raise awareness for veteran suicide

Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives, about 8,000 veterans a year. 

The Tampa Bay Warriors hockey club, a non-profit organization that helps veterans adjust to civilian life, held the second annual "Hockey Heals 22." Army veteran Delio F. Cervera, the club’s secretary, said tonight’s event also raises money for suicide prevention. 

"The number 22 is a big statistic that came out a few years ago," Army veteran and Warriors board member Nicole Gravelle said. 

She’s one of more than 300 players that will play in games from 7 p.m. on Friday to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the AdventHealth Ice Center. 

"Our mission is to bring everyone together, to provide a safe for veterans to come together and play hockey, healing," Gravelle said. 

Missing the camaraderie is a common thought when talking to players about civilian life. Many view hockey as a positive substitute. Army veteran Daniel McConnell joined the Warriors at a time in his life when he was feeling lost.

"A lot of your identity is formed with the military, and once you get out, a lot of guys kind of just feel lost. When you can’t find a sense of belonging outside of that, it’s easy to find yourself in a dark place," McConnell said. "Hopefully, these kinds of organizations can keep guys from getting to that place or bring them back out of it should they be there."

The Tampa Warriors' roster consists of more than 100 disabled veterans. The executive director of the Tampa Warriors, Chris Scangarello served in the United States Marine Corps and Army for 22 years. He joined the Warriors in 2019.

Chris Scangarello is the executive director of the Tampa Warriors.

Scangarello said they have four warrior team that will play a minimum of four games during those 22 hours of hockey against incoming teams from all over the area. 

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"It’s therapeutic for us to be out here on the ice, gets us out of the house, gets around like-minded folks who have been through some of the same challenges," said Scangarello.

Ruben Hernandez has been playing with the league since 2017. He served in the U.S. Air Force and Clearwater Fire and Rescue for four years.

"The best part was at three o'clock in the morning, watching the teams that come in to play us drag their equipment in, and they look dead-tired wondering why they were out there. But they get on the ice, and they just have an absolute great time supporting this cause for us," shared Hernandez.

The Tampa Warriors practice twice a month. Their coach, Ryan Danger is attempting to stay awake for all 22 hours of games.

"I love this game and I love these guys. And I love what this game does for these guys," said Danger.

There will also be games, raffles, and food during the event. 

To donate to Hockey Heals 22 visit: www.zeffy.com.