Forty-two military and first responder teams competed in the 17th Annual Armed Services Hockey International Tournament Nov. 6-10 in Las Vegas.
The tournament was divided into six divisions varying in skill and experience level. It showcased the talent of hockey players from military installations across North America and all branches of the U.S. services as well as military and veterans from the Canadian and Australian armed forces.
Since the resurrection of the Luke Varsity Hockey program in 2016, the Thunderbolts have won numerous division titles to include the New Dawn Division V Championship honors in 2018 and then this year, fielding two teams competing in both the Noble Eagle Division II and the Enduring Freedom Division VI, bringing home championships for both teams.
“I knew with great goaltending and a little luck, we could possibly bring Luke home another championship,” said Ryan Allen, 56th Mission Support Group executive officer and Luke Hockey Team president. “I never could have imagined we would bring back both. Luckily, our defenses never stopped skating, our [upper] team was able to take down some top-level competitors, including the Nellis Creechers and the All-Marine Corps Team. No doubt Luke has the bragging rights across all of the Air Force base hockey teams for the next year!”
In order to secure the championship, Luke’s top team battled through players primarily from Alaska and the upper Mid-West and kept the lead for a majority of the game, but the rival team rallied to tie the game at 1-1 with just over two minutes of play remaining. With more than a minute to play, Clyde Gilman, 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance technician, netted the game winning and tournament-clinching goal.
“One of my favorite parts of the tournament was being able to support our other team,” said Kyle Kupiec, 62nd Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons load crew chief. “Both teams were there for all 10 games and bonded the newer players with the older and more seasoned guys. It felt good to know both [Luke] teams stole the show.”
The championship banners, jersey, along with team photo can be seen hung proudly in the Bryant Fitness Center.
Military members and dependents currently play in four local adult recreational leagues as Thunderbolts and participate in local and regional tournaments. Currently there are more than 104 players affiliated with the organization primarily made of active duty, but also Reserve and retired military members throughout the Phoenix area.
For more information on how to become a player or learn more about the sport or how to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.