NHL All-Star Weekend a healing experience for first Canadian soldier honoured at event

NHL All-Star Weekend a healing experience for first Canadian soldier honoured at event

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Article / March 22, 2019 / Project number: 19-0082

By Corporal Cody Misner, 31 Canadian Brigade Group Public Affairs, with files from Army Public Affairs

San Jose, California — Master Corporal Stephen Giza, a Regular Force Canadian Army member and combat veteran, is now the first Canadian soldier to be honoured as part of the NHL All-Star Weekend, the latest edition of which took place January 25-27, 2019 in San Jose, California.

The NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) and the United Heroes League ((UHL), a United States non-profit veterans’ organization) have built a tradition of honouring soldiers at this annual event.

A member of 31 Service Battalion from London, Ontario, MCpl Giza was one of only four Veterans selected from across North America – and the only Canadian – to attend the four-day event.

He was allowed to bring a guest, and it was no coincidence that he chose his son Zachary Tucker, a hockey player and major NHL fan just like his Dad.

Currently working with his Battalion’s Technical Services Platoon, MCpl Giza has served 15 years with the Canadian Army. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 where he was wounded during two separate improvised explosive device attacks. MCpl Giza earned the Sacrifice Medal as well as the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command Commander’s Commendation. His latest deployment was in 2016 when he served six months in Kuwait.

A stealthy application yields a call from Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner

The UHL put out a call for applications for Veterans who would be recognized for their service by attending the All-Star Hero Experience at 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, California – with all expenses paid.

After his wife, Master Corporal (Retired) Lisa Tucker-Giza, submitted a written biography to the UHL, MCpl Giza unexpectedly received a personal call from none other than Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, notifying him that he had been chosen to attend.

MCpl Giza was taken aback by the news, as he had no idea he’d been nominated.

“Once it sunk in that this was real and that I was going to be able to share the experience with my son, it was an emotional moment,” he recalled after returning from the event.

“My son and I love hockey and enjoy watching it on television. He has never been to an NHL game due to our busy schedule and the cost,” he explained.

Zachary Tucker plays left wing for the St. Thomas Junior Stars, a Major PeeWee team, and as his dad reports, “He is the speed skater of the team.”

The youngster is also a proud member of the 7 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps, also in St. Thomas, Ontario.

Quality father-and-son time – with VIP treatment

“Once I realized that they were giving me an opportunity to give back to my family – who are the ones who take on the burdens of deployments as much as I do – I teared up,” said MCpl Giza.

He was thrilled to be able to able to bring his son with him. Family life is busy. Four kids, sports, jobs and school together make for hectic times, so he was excited to have some quality father-and-son time.

Couple that with the VIP treatment the duo received from the NHLPA and UHL, and the All-Star weekend provided a bonding opportunity like no other.

Son meets idol Sidney Crosby of the Penguins

“I’m a diehard Leafs fan, but my son is a Penguins fan.” He explained that he gave his son a small penguin toy as a toddler when he went overseas, and the boy’s connection to the team was formed. “So, as I was cheering for the Atlantic Division, he was rooting against me, cheering for the Metropolitan Division – who eventually won the game.”

For MCpl Giza, the memories and personal growth that were gained during this experience are something that he will carry with him forever. “The father in me was just overwhelmed watching my son meet his favorite hockey player and idol, Sidney Crosby,” he explained. “He was beaming with excitement and couldn’t believe it was happening.”

MCpl Giza thought back to how his time away from home, and how 15 years of service seemed to bring him to that very moment. “The soldier in me was blown away that my experiences within the military had led me to this opportunity,” he said.

The UHL brought together four families, many of which have endured the emotional and physical strains of coming home from war zones.

Event was a huge turning point on road to recovery from PTSD

“On a personal note, which I am so proud of, this is a huge turning point in my road to recovery from my injuries sustained in Afghanistan,” he explained. “After my deployment, I was diagnosed with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and have never been the same.”

MCpl Giza has had a hard time dealing with what most consider normal emotions, much like the other vets he had met on the UHL trip; but something was different this time.

“One of the many symptoms I experience is that my body and mind seem not to process excitement like before. For more than 10 years, it presented excitement and anticipation as anxiety and sometimes fear,” he explained.

But, “Since hearing I was selected, and through 10 years of doctors, medication, workshops, and education, for the first time I was excited about what was happening and processed it as a positive feeling.”

It seems the trip was a success on many levels. “I have a long way to go, but to me this was huge. Something that I had accepted I may never feel again had returned.”

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Image gallery


  • Photo 1 - Fan Fair
Master Corporal Stephen Giza with son Zachary Tucker in front of the Fan Fair display at the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend held in San Jose, California from January 25 to 27. MCpl Giza is the first Canadian soldier to be honoured at the gathering, which honours veterans as part of its featured events. 
Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.
    Photo 1 - Fan Fair Master Corporal Stephen Giza with son Zachary Tucker in front of the Fan Fair display at the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend held in San Jose, California from January 25 to 27. MCpl Giza is the first Canadian soldier to be honoured at the gathering, which honours veterans as part of its featured events. Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.

  • Photo 2 - IMG_1002 puck sign
Standing in front of a puck-shaped sign on the first day of the January 25 to 27, 2019 weekend event is Master Corporal Stephen Giza, a member of the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He is the first Canadian soldier to be honoured at the annual NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, California.  
Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.
    Photo 2 - IMG_1002 puck sign Standing in front of a puck-shaped sign on the first day of the January 25 to 27, 2019 weekend event is Master Corporal Stephen Giza, a member of the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. He is the first Canadian soldier to be honoured at the annual NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, California. Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.

  • photo 3 - Front Row
Master Corporal Stephen Giza thoroughly enjoys his front-row seat at the 2019 NHL All-Star game held in San Jose, California on January 26. He was one of only four Veterans selected from across North America – and the only Canadian – to be honoured for his service at this event. MCpl Giza deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 where he was wounded during two separate improvised explosive device attacks.
Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.
    photo 3 - Front Row Master Corporal Stephen Giza thoroughly enjoys his front-row seat at the 2019 NHL All-Star game held in San Jose, California on January 26. He was one of only four Veterans selected from across North America – and the only Canadian – to be honoured for his service at this event. MCpl Giza deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 where he was wounded during two separate improvised explosive device attacks. Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.

  • photo 4 - Sidney Crosby 
Master Corporal Stephen Giza’s son, Zachary Tucker, meets his idol Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the NHL All-Star Weekend held in San Jose, California from January 25 to 27, 2019. Salutes to military have long been a feature of the event, and MCpl Giza, thanks to a nomination from his wife, is the first Canadian to be included. 
Photo: Provided by the NHL Players’ Association.
    photo 4 - Sidney Crosby Master Corporal Stephen Giza’s son, Zachary Tucker, meets his idol Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the NHL All-Star Weekend held in San Jose, California from January 25 to 27, 2019. Salutes to military have long been a feature of the event, and MCpl Giza, thanks to a nomination from his wife, is the first Canadian to be included. Photo: Provided by the NHL Players’ Association.

  • photo 5 - 0D53714 hockey card posters
Master Corporal Stephen Giza and other special guests of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend held in San Jose, California from January 25 to 27, show off their personalized Upper Deck hockey cards. 
Photo:  provided by the NHL Players’ Association.
    photo 5 - 0D53714 hockey card posters Master Corporal Stephen Giza and other special guests of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend held in San Jose, California from January 25 to 27, show off their personalized Upper Deck hockey cards. Photo: provided by the NHL Players’ Association.

  • photo 6 – Erik Karlsson
Meeting Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks was just one highlight of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend for Master Corporal Stephen Giza. He was invited to the event, held January 25 to 27 in San Jose, California, by the United Heroes League, which offers military members and Veterans all-expenses-paid trips to the event as a gesture of thanks. 
Photo: Provided by the NHL Players’ Association.
    photo 6 – Erik Karlsson Meeting Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks was just one highlight of the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend for Master Corporal Stephen Giza. He was invited to the event, held January 25 to 27 in San Jose, California, by the United Heroes League, which offers military members and Veterans all-expenses-paid trips to the event as a gesture of thanks. Photo: Provided by the NHL Players’ Association.

  • photo 7 - giza-burns
Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks signs a hat for Master Corporal Stephen Giza at the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, California, held January 25 to 27, where MCpl Giza and his son were welcomed as special guests in honour of his military service. 
Photo:  Provided by the NHL Players’ Association.
    photo 7 - giza-burns Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks signs a hat for Master Corporal Stephen Giza at the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, California, held January 25 to 27, where MCpl Giza and his son were welcomed as special guests in honour of his military service. Photo: Provided by the NHL Players’ Association.

  • Photo 8 – Carolina Hurricanes mascot Stormy
Master Corporal Stephen Giza with the Carolina Hurricanes’ mascot Stormy on January 26 at the 2019 NHL All-Star game in San Jose, California, where he was the first Canadian soldier to be honoured at the annual event.
Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.
    Photo 8 – Carolina Hurricanes mascot Stormy Master Corporal Stephen Giza with the Carolina Hurricanes’ mascot Stormy on January 26 at the 2019 NHL All-Star game in San Jose, California, where he was the first Canadian soldier to be honoured at the annual event. Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.

  • photo 10 - IMG_3075 family in uniform 
Master Corporal Stephen Giza, his wife Master Corporal (Retired) Lisa Tucker-Giza and their son Zachary Tucker in November, 2018. MCpl Tucker-Giza quietly sent a winning application for the All-Star Hero Experience at the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend event in San Jose, California and her husband became the first Canadian soldier to be honoured there.
Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.
    photo 10 - IMG_3075 family in uniform Master Corporal Stephen Giza, his wife Master Corporal (Retired) Lisa Tucker-Giza and their son Zachary Tucker in November, 2018. MCpl Tucker-Giza quietly sent a winning application for the All-Star Hero Experience at the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend event in San Jose, California and her husband became the first Canadian soldier to be honoured there. Photo: Provided by Master Corporal Stephen Giza.
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