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Bonding program sees soldiers face off with Oilers alumni

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Luke Zwaga says he hasn't strapped on the pads in a decade, but he wasn't going to miss this chance to face heavy slap shots.

"I know it’s cliche, but it’s the opportunity of a lifetime," he said of the chance to don his goalie gear and face the Edmonton Oilers alumni.

Zwaga and about a dozen other hockey players are getting a full Oilers experience as a part of the Soldier On program, which works with active and former military members trying to overcome mental and physical injuries.

"Some of these guys have 36 years in and they might move back to their hometown, where they don’t have a connection with the military, and this allows them to get back with fellow soldiers, tell some jokes and that camaraderie," Zwaga said.

Soldier On uses sports and other activities to inspire veterans and connect them with one another.

"They’ve been away from their families and having to be deployed overseas," Ryan Vincent of Soldier On told CTV News Edmonton on Monday.

"I think this opportunity just gives back to them."

On Monday, the group took in an Oilers practice and went behind the scenes at Rogers Place. They'll also attend the Oilers' game Monday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

On Tuesday, they'll hit the ice against the blue-and-orange-clad alumni, including Ben Scrivens, who led the players through a pre-game skate.

"Those small actions that people can take to further their mental health, to seek out resources, to find community to find that supports for themselves to make their lives better," said Scrivens, a Spruce Grove native who played goal for the Oilers over parts of two NHL seasons.

"I’m happy to be part of this one."

As for Zwaga's own game, he's ready to see what the alumni will bring.

"I would like to see Mark Fistric take a couple of shots — I want to see the speed of the puck," he said.

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