By Casey Holland
The game of hockey is a special sport, played by children and adults alike. Yes, it is a sport where scores are kept, with winners and losers, but hockey can also provide a therapeutic outlet for one’s day-to-day pressures. Hockey can be more therapeutic for some than others, as is the case within the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community, home to the Navy SEALs, who for over 20 years have been the tip of the spear in the United States war on terror. Hockey has become an integral part of this community’s toolbox for coping with extended deployments in hostile environments, post deployment assimilation, loss of friends, sleep issues, injuries, and the long lasting effects of combat.
While stationed at the Naval War College in Newport Rhode Island, then 36yr old Navy SEAL Commander (Cmdr.) Ryan Croley, a lifelong Detroit Red Wings fan, decided it was time to learn how to play hockey. Cmdr. Croley purchased equipment, joined a league at the newly built University of Rhode Island Boss Arena, and quickly realized there were benefits to playing hockey beyond the physical. After completing a nearly 18-month deployment and
training rotation Cmdr. Croley jumped back on the ice and recruited his SEAL brothers to join him at 6:00am, twice a week, at the local rink. Word spread and participation grew to the point where it was clear these morning skates were providing a much needed outlet for the NSW community. In 2012, with support from the Navy SEAL Foundation, Cmdr. Croley founded the Virginia Beach Hockey Club (VBHC) to formalize the program, increase involvement of the NSW community, and help grow the game in the Virginia Beach /
Hampton Roads Virginia area, home to the highest population of active duty, retired military, and Gold Star families in the country. Cmdr. Croley also started the Challenge Sled Hockey program for military, first responders and civilians unable to play standup hockey. In 2019, with support from the Boston Bruins Alumni, the VBHC was rebranded the Warrior for Life Fund to professionalize and widen the reach of the programs.