WATERTOWN — The soldier players of the first-ever All-Army ice hockey team said they’re ready for their first big challenge, taking on their counterparts from north of the border.
“We understand that Canada lays claim to hockey, but we’ve got a lot of guys from the border states, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, who also are pretty proud about their hockey too,” said Capt. Jeffery Fearing, head coach and a forward on the new team. “We feel we’ll have something to say about that game next Saturday.”
The 20-member team is taking part in a three-week training camp prior to playing the Canadian Army Hockey Team from Ottawa on Dec. 16 in Watertown.
The soldiers making up the team represent a wide range of ranks, from private first class to major, and a wide range of military specialties. Many of the players played in college, including at West Point, or in junior and professional leagues in the United States and even in Ukraine.
“Hockey is what brings us together, so we all have that common ground aside from already being in the military,” said Spc. David San Clemente, a goalie out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Despite their past experience, many of the team members had to shake off the rust as they returned to competition. The training camp period includes scrimmages against the West Point club team and the Watertown Wolves.
“You can’t mimic hockey shape,” said Sgt. Evan Hammersley, a forward and infantry squad leader at Fort Drum. “The first few skates were humbling.”
As he got back into competitive hockey, the sergeant said he had been watching a lot more hockey to prepare himself for the ice.
“You see the game differently now that you’re playing,” Sgt. Hammersley said.
With only a few games together as a unit, the game against the Canadian squad will be a “big test,” said Capt. Mark R. Dube, a forward based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“You realize what you have when you go against the best,” he said.
The Dec. 16 game is the first test as the team, whose players will train full time for the next few months, readies for an international military hockey competition in Lithuania in January.
“It’s an honor we don’t take lightly,” Capt. Fearing said. “It’s a responsibility to put the best product on the ice. Any time you have the flag on your jersey, it’s pretty special.”
The All-Army hockey game against the Canadian Army team will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 16 at the Watertown Municipal Arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, with pregame ceremonies starting at 3 p.m. Admission to the game is free, and no tickets are required.
Video of the team’s training can be seen at http://wdt.me/army-hockey.