The San Diego Guardians started their hockey team four years ago for active duty service members and veterans. In a short time, it has expanded to eight teams in three states and they have big goals, beyond just scoring goals.

“We have prior service members who really had a tough time in the service and this is definitely their therapy,” said Army veteran Andrew Timon. “They come onto the ice to let off steam and to level themselves out. And we have guys who come here for the camaraderie that they miss from their time in the service and they get to bond with the guys here and throw a few back and just have a good time on the ice and forget about the troubles of life.

“For others it’s a resource. How can we help you get the next job. Develop a skill or get you ready for interviews. Whatever we can do to help develop each other on and off the ice is what our goals are,” Timon said.

A 36-year-old former soldier, Timon helped found the Guardians in 2018, despite the fact that he had never played hockey before.

“They were all veterans at the time,” said Seth Schmidt. “They were just looking for a hockey team that had similar mindsets and similar experiences where they can come and hang out in the locker room and we all understood where each other was coming from.”

Schmidt, a 29-year-old reservist, has taken over as captain and president of the Guardians and he plays on three of the six teams of various skill levels in San Diego.

The Guardians play on ice rinks in Mira Mesa, UTC and the Kroc Center in various leagues with teams made up mostly of civilians.

“I feel like they’re really grateful,” said Matty Zelek. “After the games and before the games, they usually come up to us and thank us for our service. And they usually give us stick taps after the game. It’s a really relieving feeling and we’re thankful for it and appreciate the support.”

Zelek, a 24-year-old sailor, serves as the director of recruitment for the Guardians and invites any service members, first responders and their dependents to check out the sport he started playing as a kid outside of Rockford, Illinois.

The Guardians have expanded from San Diego to Arizona and Texas, playing in tournaments across the country.

Just like any team, they enjoy winning, but in this case, winning is truly not everything.

“It’s another way for those to be able to have something to go to to feel good,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chris Geschwender. “And I think that’s the important thing. That all of us feel good, when we’re playing and when we’re finished.”