By U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Katrina Cheesman, 52nd Fighter Wing Public AffairsFebruary 28, 2013
GARMISCH, Germany -- The whistle blew and the hockey players' blades scarred the gleaming ice as they skidded to a stop at the line, spraying clouds of ice.
Both teams faced each other and raised their sticks to salute their opponents as the first 2013 U.S. Air Forces in Europe Ice Hockey Championship match began, Feb. 14.
The three-day tournament, held in Garmisch, challenged 11 teams from all corners of the European theater in a match for the gold. Teams included the KMC Eagles 1 and 2, Spangdahlem Sabers, Baden Bruins, Weisbaden Vikings, Gilenkirchen Flyers, SHAPE Shields, Bayern Rangers, Ansbach Choppers, Stuttgart Mustangs and the UK Warbirds.
The tournament started in 1991 and thanks to the dedication of many, is still going strong.
Despite not having a direct coordinator or funding, the KMC Eagles from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, stepped up to the challenge as tournament director and fundraiser to pay for everything from the ice to the referees' salaries.
"Everyone is paying to come down here to play. We've got NATO, Army, Air Force ... because of that, no big entity is in charge and it is now funded by each individual," says U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Collin Keller of the KMC Eagles team. "Everybody just wants to play hockey, and this is the best way to do it, especially with North American hockey."
For the players, this tournament provides a unique opportunity to play like they are on home ice once again. But it isn't just about playing by the rules, it's about the distinctive sense of camaraderie among the players.
"I grew up playing hockey," noted Sgt. Cam Downie of SHAPE Shields from Joint Force Command Naples, Italy. Downie, a Canadian, added: "The love of the sport brings a lot of people in the European theater together who normally would not interact in this small community of military members."
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brad Huestis of the Bayern Rangers from USAG Grafenwoehr in Germany, agreed.
"It's cool, especially playing in Europe as a military community ... there is a great sense of camaraderie in this tournament."
While Team 1 of the KMC Eagles took gold this year, the other teams were not disappointed.
"This is a great opportunity to play our fellow NATO and armed forces members," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Bashaw of the Spangdahlem Sabers from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. "It builds camaraderie. We are all friends and family here ... besides what you may see on the ice. By doing this, I support my community, my base and my fellow airmen."