Annual Army versus Air Force hockey returns after COVID cancellation!

Published: Feb. 16, 2022 at 9:27 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -After two years, two branches finally unite for one game as the 26th annual Army versus Air Force hockey game took place at the Carlson Center on Saturday. Resuming course after a missed match, this event has been a tradition since 1995 and the turn out alone shows how much it means to the community, as much like a Nanooks game, cars were parked as far as Growden Park. spilling over to every lot close to the Carlson. However, this was no shock to Capt. Justice Neuman who just happened to be the captain of the Army Arctic Warriors. Neuman has been a long time player at the event, stating that for him “the best part though is just the turn out we have every year. Every year it’s nice to see more and more people come to the event.” Arctic Warriors’ goalie, Sgt. Kevin Penkoski was however “a little shaky” as the wild crowd gave him nerves. But it’s no surprise that the attendance was so high as the show was a spectacle. For the opening ceremonies there was a joint color guard made up of Army, Air Force, and the UAF ROTC program along with perhaps the coolest puck drop the Carlson has ever had as Staff Sgt. Elias Grossman from the Army, repelled down from the ceiling of the Carlson Center to deliver the puck to Erik Largen, head coach of Nanooks hockey, so that he could perform the ceremonial puck drop.

With that the game was on. In the first period the Army arrived at the first goal early on followed by a puck on net from Air Force. And each team added one more point to the board before the period ended.

More memorable however might’ve been the moments in early intermission when Staff Sgt. Cordua underwent a reenlistment ceremony on the ice as he once again gave his oath and was sworn in by Capt. Faith Brodkord. Following the big commitment, Sgt. Brandon Thigpen was awarded a Commander’s coin by the leadership of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment. An award he received for demonstrating exceptional selflessness by “leading and organizing” a food drive for Fox Forward Support Company, Two-Eight Field Artillery Regiment. An effort that generated over $2000 dollars which was used to donate over one ton of food to the Fairbanks Food Bank.Closing out the intermission awards, were United Service Organization volunteers, Carlos Alejandro and Sarvee DeNardo who were recognized for their many hours of voluntary service to the troops.

When the players returned to the ice for the second period, there was little to mention as only one goal was scored in the 20 minutes. The lead then went to the Arctic Warriors. They would hold this lead through the third period and grab two more goals resulting in a win for the Army. And while the win defines the record book, the numbers on the board do little to reflect the importance of the event as a whole. For the military community in interior Alaska, the game gathers them together when more often than not, those who serve along with their families, are often pulled far away from loved ones. This remains all the more true with the pandemic as the military was very strict about off base adventures. However, the comradery between branches both on and off the ice was beyond blatant. This event holds importance to many members for that very reason and for those that play it’s all the more important. According to Capt. Neuman, who is stationed at Fort Greely, the players can claim their PT hours for the play time and the training, but for him, it simply breaks up the winter which is why he looks forward to it. But, for the players, they all get to immerse themselves with a game they love.

Ironically, some of the players like Capt. Neuman thought that they would “never put the pads on again.” But that wasn’t the case for Jack and Adam Taylor from Eielson Air Force Base. These two brothers learned to love hockey growing up together and would both later go on to serve in the Air Force.

Senior Airman AdamTaylor first arrived in Alaska and discovered the Army versus Air Force game which he played back in 2020. Eventually when his brother was up for reassignment, Special Agent Jack Taylor and his wife decided that they would like to live near family, a rare opportunity and a blessing as Adam gets to “spend time with his nieces.” On the ice the two brothers also have “a great time,” bonding over childhood memories.

With a win for Army, the record is tied up 13-13 and they take home the Commander’s cup till 2023. Later that night all active personnel were invited for free attendance to the Nanook game for Military appreciation night, and Erik Largen said that “just to be a small part,” of the game was awesome and that we “just can’t thank them enough for all the service that they do.”

Scorers for the game include, Capt. Justice Neuman for the Army along with, 1st Lt. Vaughn Guetens, Specialist Scott Duff, Pvt. Evan Erdmann, Pvt. Robert Jackson, and 1st Lt. Devon Wentworth. For the Air Force the net finders were Senior Airman Adam Taylor and Master Sgt. Tyler Keith.

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