Capitals fulfill dream of wounded warrior

Capitals fulfill dream of wounded warrior
October 13, 2012, 2:45 pm
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As a kid growing up in Billings, Montana, Bo Reichenbach had two dreams. One was to become a Navy Seal; the other to play in the NHL.

He never imagined one would lead to the other.

Less than three months after losing both his legs while serving in Afghanistan, Reichenbach suited up in his goalie gear, strapped himself into a sledge hockey sled and spent more than an hour stopping pucks from Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Jay Beagle and John Carlson at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

“They asked me if they needed to take it easy on me,” said Reichenbach, 24. “And I said, ‘No. Bring it on.’”

It is a mantra Reichenbach has been repeating for most of his life.

When he was 15 he left his home in Billings to pursue his dream of being an NHL goaltender, playing junior hockey for the Thunder Bay Wolverines. Four years later, in March of 2008, Reichenbach enlisted in the Navy.

That same year be became the father of a baby boy, Landon, and in May of 2010 he was promoted to Navy Seal and entrusted with some of the most dangerous missions in the military.

Reichenbach’s unit was deployed to Afghanistan on Jan. 3, 2012. Seven months into his tour, on July 17, his life was dramatically altered.

Reichenbach was walking with his five-man unit when one of his footsteps triggered the explosion of an undetected 20-pound non-metallic pressure plate buried underground.

The improvised explosive device [IED] threw Reichenbach high into the air and when he landed he knew the damage was severe.

“I hit the ground and was awake immediately,” Reichenbach recalled. “My left leg was completely gone; my right leg was damaged pretty bad. I just knew I had to stop the bleeding. I tried getting a tourniquet on and I couldn’t because my [right] arm was pretty mangled.

“My [hospital] corpsman was on me immediately. He tied tourniquets on all my limbs, put an IV in, gave me a little bit of medicine and had me feeling good. Twenty minutes later a helicopter picked us up and took us back to our base. They put me under and started surgeries.”

Within 12 hours of the explosion, Reichenbach was without his entire left leg and had his right leg amputated just below the knee. He also suffered structural damage to his right arm and suffered 40 percent hearing loss in one ear and 60 percent in the other.

In the days following his initial surgeries, an infection set into Reichenbach’s right leg and when he arrived at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda on July 22, the remainder of his right leg was removed.

Since the explosion, Reichenbach has undergone a total of 20 surgeries. During his recovery, his former hockey coach in Billings, Greg Smith, arranged for a few of the Capitals to stop in for a visit. Smith played parts of three seasons as a defenseman for the Caps from 1985-88 and when he asked if a couple of players could visit with Reichenbach, Hendricks and Carlson jumped at the opportunity.

“We’re big supporters of the military and everything they do for us,” said Hendricks, who is from Blaine, Minn. “They give us our freedom. They allow us to play hockey in the best country in the world, in our opinion.

“When a guy like Bo goes through what he went through, for Johnny and I to spend an hour or so with him at the hospital and lift his spirits, it’s the easiest thing for us because it lifts our spirits, too. Just looking at him and seeing where he is now and the road he’s on … he’s been back here for a little over two months now and he’s playing hockey.”

It was during that hospital visit that Hendricks invited Reichenbach to practice with the Capitals once he felt up to it. On Sept. 16, less than two months after the explosion, Reichenbach participated in the Navy 5-Miler on the National Mall and was the first across the line on a custom-made bicycle.

Three weeks ago he began walking on prosthetic legs and after trying sledge hockey three or four times, Reichenbach decided it was time to accept Hendricks’ invitation. His father, Donald, drove him to the Capitals’ practice rink in Arlington on Friday and for the next hour he took hundreds of pucks in the chest, face and arms.

“He’s a good goalie,” Beagle said. “I couldn’t believe how he could find the center of the net so fast. Every time you look up coming down on a drill he’s in the center of the net and in good position.”

“It was a blast being back on the ice,” Reichenbach said. “Having a chance to hang out with them really helps out with the recovery. It helps my mindset just to be around hockey again and being with good people, and these are real good guys.”

Reichenbach is expected to spend the next several months at the Walter Reed Wounded Warrior Unit, where he undergoes rehab four hours a day while learning how to walk again. Hendricks said just spending a few hours with veterans like Reichenbach puts his life into perspective.

“I think about all the injuries I’ve had in hockey and in one second he goes through more than I’ve ever gone through and ever will go through in my career,” Hendricks said. “It’s hard to grasp that but when you can meet these guys and listen to their stories it’s fantastic that they’re as positive as they are.”

Reichenbach says that although his life was forever changed on that July day, he has zero regrets.

“I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “I’m happy. There are definitely some tough days dealing with some nerve pain, but I’ve been afforded a lot of opportunities and this is a new challenge for me. I’m excited and I’ve got to push forward.”