Wounded U.S. war heroes become ice hockey warriors

Heroes to hockey stars

MOUNT PROSPECT, Ill. -- American heroes, wounded in war, are fighting their way back armed only with sticks, on a battleground covered with ice.

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Richard “Ducks” Duzinskas suffered injuries while serving in Iraq. CBS Evening News

It’s been a long way back from the war for Richard “Ducks” Duzinskas. Ten years ago a roadside bomb in Iraq cut his lung in half, left shrapnel in his body and night terrors in his mind -- not to mention what it did to his left arm.

They reattached it, but a broken spirit was harder to fix.

“I went through that depression like ‘who’s gonna want me, what am I gonna be able to do,’” Duzinskas said. “This is one thing that gets me outta bed on Saturdays, gets me motivated.”

Duzinskas is a defenseman for the Blackhawk Warriors, a team comprised of military veterans with wounds and issues from their time in service. Most people who lose an arm and then have it reattached don’t take up hockey.

We spoke with him and teammates Jacob Blome, who plays on despite herniated discs, traumatic stress and brain injuries -- along with Kevin Shawarko, who has suffered from spinal injuries, nerve atrophy and more.

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Teammates Jacob Blome, Kevin Shawarko and Richard “Ducks” Duzinskas spoke to CBS News’ Dean Reynolds. CBS Evening News

“It pushes you to be better. Every time you get out there you want to be better,” Shawarko said, and he thinks it’s working. “I’m not falling down as much.”

Blome agrees.

“Hockey is my escape,” he said. “The anxiety that I feel, it, as soon as I cross those boards, getting onto the ice, it just ... it disappears.”

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Richard “Ducks” Duzinskas CBS Evening News

They’re associated with other teams of wounded vets and affiliated with actual National Hockey League squads. They have games or practice once a week.

“We’re all warriors, so on the ice we’re going after each other, but off the ice we’re friends, brothers, sisters,” Shawarko said.

The good part is that they’re all improving on and off the ice.

“When I first joined the team, I couldn’t tie my own hockey skates because of my health issues. Now I tie my own hockey skates. I don’t need any help,” Duzinskas said.

That’s the goal -- and they’ve got a real shot at it.

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The Blackhawk Warriors seen playing hockey. CBS Evening News
  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.