Defiance resident, Nathan Laupp, has always loved hockey. He’s also a U.S. Marine veteran devoted to helping fellow veterans struggling with issues/disabilities. Last year he found a way to combine both passions under one program – Warrior Hockey.
Laupp enlisted in the U.S. Marines straight out of high school. September 11, 2001 was Nathan's first day of boot camp. A week later he learned he would be deployed to Iraq where he served in the Third Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. He still vividly remembers his first real combat engagement, and the adrenaline and emotions that came during and after that experience. His unit suffered two casualties during that tour – both self-inflicted, one accidental and one suicidal.
Nathan served a second deployment in 2004-05. That one was more difficult for numerous reasons. Saddam Hussein had been captured and competing groups were fighting for power. It was difficult to tell who the enemy was. There was an escalated, ever-present danger of non-conventional attacks from militant groups, so no one ever really relaxed.
Nathan lost a close friend during that tour, plus his dad had recently died from cancer and his mom was diagnosed with cancer while he was deployed. She died shortly after he returned.
At that point, Laupp said, “I was done.”
Fortunately, Laupp’s future wife, Allison, encouraged him to go to college after he got discharged. “Never in a million years would I have thought I would ever go to college. I was a non-conventional high school student. No one in my family had ever gone to college. But when you have a really good partner, that helps you along. I benefited from that.”
About four years ago Laupp got an opportunity to help with the Focus Marines Foundation which helps veterans who are struggling with emotional, physical, or financial issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Focus Marines and does financial training and counseling for veterans that go through the Focus Marines program. Laupp also runs another non-profit call “The Dinner” which is a group of business owners/executives who support charities devoted to helping poor and/or terminally ill children. When he met with Focus Marines Board Chairman, Walt Suhre, one thing stood out for Laupp. Suhre said, “You should be doing three things: learning, earning and returning.” Laupp said, “I’ve really tried to implement that in my life.”
After the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019, Laupp saw an old friend who had been an NHL/AHL goalie in a photo on Facebook with veterans who were playing in a hockey league in Philadelphia. That’s where he first heard of “Warriors Hockey”.
Warriors Hockey is dedicated to injured and disabled US Military Veterans who have served our country and play the sport of ice hockey. While some of the participants played hockey prior to being injured, many try it for the first time for therapeutic reasons. To participate, veterans must have at least a 10% VA disability rating and have been honorably discharged.
Laupp thought, “Wow, hockey plus helping veterans! I’m in!”
His friend said, “You should check and see if the Blues have this.” Well, the Blues did not have such a program. So Laupp reached out to USA Hockey, which overseas Warrior Hockey across the country, and they jumped on it. They wanted to get the program into St. Louis, “When can we talk?” they asked.
So Laupp set about getting things in place. He established a 501(c)3 corporation, but he really wanted an endorsement from the St. Louis Blues. Several professional hockey teams across the country support Warrior Hockey, and with the Blues’ recent Stanley Cup, that affiliation would provide a huge benefit.
Laupp was able to set up a meeting with the Blues with help from a co-player in an adult hockey league in Brentwood. He met with Randy Girsch, St. Louis VP of Community Relations. He explained the program and how it would have a much larger impact if he could put a Blue Note on the team jerseys, and the Blues came onboard. The Blues designed the logo and gave them a grant. They also helped get in touch with blues alumni, and along with help from his friend in Philadelphia, acquire Rob “Rammer” Ramage, former Blues first round draft pick, as a coach.
Laupp said, “The Blues Alumni has been great. We received both cash and equipment donations from both the St. Louis Blues and the alumni, which is huge!” The St. Louis Warriors teams’ first time on the ice was June 2020. Then things just blew up. Laupp said, “We are now the fastest growing Warrior Hockey League in the nation. We initially hoped to get enough players for two teams. We have four teams and a waitlist for others who are interested.”
“We don’t care what skill level you are. It’s all about getting on the ice together. We have four teams, each at different levels: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. The Delta Force are the beginners, and probably put in the most work. We have ice time three times a week where the teams practice against each other.” Laupp said, “This is the closest thing to being in the military that I’ve ever experienced since being discharged. We’re all coming together, for a common goal. We have uniforms and “missions” (winning games/tournaments.) We sent three teams to a tournament in Dallas a few months ago and one of our teams actually won a tournament in April. We’re sending three teams to Minnesota in June, and going to the Warrior Classic sponsored by the Philadelphia Flyers in November.”
The St. Louis Warriors also play other adult hockey teams, which are called “work-up” games to help sharpen skills. The Warriors practice at Centene Community Ice Center at Maryville (the Blues practice rink.) Practice, game and tournament schedules are posted on the team website, and are open to spectators as well as live-streamed.
On May 5th, 2021, the Warriors Hockey program was highlighted as part of the Blues Military Appreciation Night. A video about the program was played, and season ticket holders donated over 300 tickets so the Warrior members and their families could attend. On May 9th, Frank Cusumano, KSDK St. Louis, did a feature on the Blues Warriors. A link to the video can be found on the St. Louis Blues Warriors Hockey Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/100117874925543/videos/637790347189790.
Participating in the program has a big impact on mental and physical health. Laupp said, “We still have our battles. We have lots of PTSD and TBI on the team. We’ve had to refer some players to rehab. But we’re all there for each other. We’re also working on how we can get people on the waitlist more involved. We’re hoping to do more off ice stuff now that the COVID restrictions are being relaxed. We’d also like to offer more to veterans than just hockey. With assistance from the Philadelphia Flyers we’ve been able to implement a Tel-a-Doc program for members. We hope to do more things like that.”
Laupp sees the biggest challenge going forward is raising money, “Each player pays $225 per year because we feel the players should have some skin in the game." But that’s only 15% of the overall budget ($150,000) of which $45-$50K is spent on ice. The league has been very fortunate to have many of their tournament travel expenses paid by donations and discounts, but covering costs is an ever-present challenge. “So we’ll be accelerating our fundraising efforts going forward – especially corporate sponsorships. We want to put a company name on our jersey!” Laupp said.
The league also sells merchandise on its website, hosts an annual 5K run to raise money, and receives a percentage of proceeds from a few of the Blues charitable events like the Mystery Autographed Puck program, and special jersey auctions.
Another challenge has been managing diverse player needs. “Our players are there for different reasons. Some come just for the fun and comradery. Others are more competitive. Trying to meld together a program that can accommodate those different objectives is a challenge.” He added, “Our vision/mission is to serve and support veterans through hockey. It’s very cool that we get to play, but one of the best parts is just hanging out together. We’ve had some players say, ‘This has saved my life. I was in a dark place, no one understood, but this has given me purpose, something to look forward to.’”
. Game and practice schedules are posted on the website, and additional information is published on the St. Louis Blues Warriors Hockey Facebook page. St. Louis Blues Warriors Virtual 5K
The 2nd Annual 2021 St. Louis Blues Warriors Virtual 5K will run through June 30, 2021. The cost for each participant is $30 and it will include a free St. Louis Blues Warriors t-shirt. The proceeds from this 5K help fund team game/practice jerseys, ice time, and tournaments. Last year we had 183 participants and raised $9,108. This year’s goal is 300 participants and $15,000.
St. Louis Blues Warriors Hockey Team members at the St. Louis Blues Military Appreciation Night May 5, 2021.
Nathan and his wife Allison.
2003—Home from Iraq, Nathan with his mom.
St. Louis Blues Warriors in action.
St. Louis Blues Warriors in action.
St. Louis Blues Warriors in action.
St. Louis Blues Warriors Hockey family members at the St. Louis Blues Military Appreciation Night May 5, 2021.