By Sgt Brandon Hubbard – dvidshub.net
After a nine-month deployment, playing a hockey tournament in the Kuwaiti Desert, no matter the 0-15 loss, will be a lasting memory for a battalion of the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers.
U.S. Army Central’s 682nd Engineer Battalion – nicknamed Task Force Wild after the Minnesota Wild of the National Hockey League– played the Kuwait National Hockey Team in the first inaugural Desert Classic tournament Aug. 6 in downtown Kuwait City’s Ice Skating Rink.
The tournament pitted three military teams, playing in red, white and blue uniforms supplied by the Kuwait Winter Games Club, in an elimination-format playoff.
It was a hockey dream on a final desert night for the cold-weather Soldiers getting ready to go back home.
“It is kind of surreal,” said Sgt. Michael Goette, 24, of St. Paul, Minn. “(Minnesota) is the state of hockey. They came out here, saw we were Task Force Wild and asked if we wanted to play hockey. We didn’t even know there was a rink in Kuwait, so it is pretty phenomenal.”
The game was organized by U.S. Army Central Host Nation Affairs and Camp Arifjan Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center with the Kuwait Winter Sports Club, who support Kuwaiti national athletes in Olympic and International competition.
Some of the U.S. Soldiers had played hockey in high school, but many of the U.S. players were taking the ice for the first time in the friendly competition. The tournament was limited to light contact and shorter games.
The opening game set the stage for an exciting night.
After being down 5-3 the Blue Team mounted a comeback in the final minutes, tying the game and forcing an overtime shootout. The Blue Team would win the first game in dramatic fashion in front of a packed arena and live on Kuwaiti national television.
Sgt. 1st Class Saara Lock, an operations sergeant in the 682nd Engineer Battalion, was playing her first night on ice as a goalie. When the final shot attempt came down to her, she stood her ground in the goal to win the opening game for the Blue Team.
“It was a once in a lifetime chance,” Lock said about playing in the tournament.
Even suiting up was an experience for Lock, who was equipped with goalie pads from the Kuwaiti team before the game.
A teenage Kuwait team equipment manager helped Lock gear up.
“To me, it is really exciting working with the Kuwaiti players and staff,” Lock said. “I would have never known how to get any of that stuff on, but the equipment manager just said ‘sit’ and he got me ready.”
Lock said the tournament was a great way to get a break from her work routine and bond with the local Kuwaitis.
The Kuwait National Hockey Team took to the ice with class in the second match, unveiling a rink-width banner with a United States flag saying: “Thank you for your support throughout the years.” The two nations have been continuing partners in the Middle East for more than two decades.
The Kuwaiti team showed the skills that make them an International Hockey Federation level team throughout the next two games with a strong offense and stingy defense, slapping an 8-0 win against the U.S. Red Team and winning 15-0 in the championship game against the Blue Team. The outcome was respectable considering in 2011 the Kuwaiti team defeated the Indian National Hockey Team, 39-2.
“We just played hockey in the summer, in the Kuwaiti desert when it is over 100 degrees outside – it was incredible,” said Capt. Mike Lovas, the Higher Headquarters Company commander for the 682nd Eng. Bat. “It doesn’t matter what the score was. It was a good will event with a partner nation: they are an incredible team – incredible people – and we had a blast.”
Players from the Blue Team of the 682nd Engineer Battalion, Minnesota National Guard.