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Playing on ice is cool for many troops in Europe

Anton Soltis, center for the Stuttgart Mustangs, skates away with the puck after a near miss on their goal during the 25th Armed Forces Alpine Classic Hockey Tournament, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.

MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 18, 2017

GARMISCH, Germany – The 25th Annual Armed Forces Alpine Classic Hockey Tournament that ended Saturday was full of intense games, friendly rivalries and even a bit of a family feud.

But when it was it all over, two teams left triumphantly.

The Wiesbaden Vikings pulled a 2-1 upset and won the Division I championship after a close game against favored Stuttgart Mustangs.

“We started out with a simple plan to stay positive and keep moving,” Vikings right wing Jason Malak said. “Stuttgart came out flying and it went back and forth until we buried our first goal. We kept up the momentum, scored again, then just focused on defense."

Malak is a new addition to the Vikings - having only joined the team six weeks ago - but he is well versed in hockey, having played for the University of Central Florida.

“As soon as I got to Wiesbaden, everyone was so friendly and let me start practicing right away. Then we worked hard and even though we weren’t favored to win, we pulled ahead,” Malak said.  “Today was fantastic. It’s so much fun to play with such great people.”

Spangdahlem won the Division II championship 2-1 in an extremely close game ending in a shootout with the GK Flyers. Their goalie, Joshua Dufner, stopped the last goal with a spectacular windmill save.

“I’m ecstatic right now,” Dufner said. “I’ve played (hockey) all my life. When I got stationed in Germany, I didn’t think I could play here. Since I’ve found this team, it’s been like a dream for me.”

For many of the players, this tournament is a long-standing tradition. Andrew Hogan, the left wing for Spangdahlem, has played in it for nine years in a row.

“I love coming out here,” Hogan said. “After all these years, I know between 50 and 100 guys from all the different teams. It’s like a reunion.”

Players play to win, but not at all costs.

“It’s different playing against other servicemembers,” Hogan said. “There’s more respect. You can get rough in this sport. You can hurt each other. But there’s none of that here. It’s about camaraderie.”

For Steve May Sr., a defenseman for the Baden Bruins, this wasn’t just an opportunity to build solidarity amongst fellow troops. It was a chance to play against his son, Steve May Jr., a winger for Wiesbaden.

“It was amazing to play against him,” May Sr. said. “We played the best we could, and when we lost I had to quickly become a Vikings fan to cheer him on. It was so great to watch my son win.”

Egnash.martin@stripes.com

Wiesbaden right wing Jason Malak skates toward the goal during the 25th Armed Forces Alpine Classic Hockey Tournament, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.
MARTIN EGNASH/STARS AND STRIPES

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