LEWISTON, Maine — The teams set up in formation. Their minds are on their objective and the opposition that lies before them. The moments before initial actions are tense, curtailed breaths emerging in quick wisps from beneath their helmets. A resounding “thump” is heard as both sides execute their battle plans.
Marine Corps Sgt. Thomas Adams punches through the opposition’s defenses to carry the puck around the net, shooting it past the goalie’s leg to score.
Adams is a member of the 15-man Marine Corps Ice Hockey Team, which played together here for the first time Jan. 15, during the weekend-long International Fire, Police and Military Winter Games hockey tournament. But, what’s truly important isn’t the competition, but that Adams is a Marine stationed in Hawaii who traveled more than 5,000 miles to compete in the hopes that he and other Marines can share his love of ice hockey.
“So how did I end up in Maine in the dead of winter to play a few games of ice hockey?” Adams asked. “It’s because I love the sport, and I love the Marine Corps. Being able to represent both parts of my life at once means a lot to me.”
Life-long Love of the Game
Adams, born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts, was introduced to ice hockey at the age of three. He said opportunities to skate were frequent, with winter freezes coming early and lasting well into spring, so he was almost always in his skates.
“Every school I was at, I was on their ice hockey team,” he said. “No matter if I was sick or had bad grades or whatever, I could get on the ice and let it all go away; I felt free skating around.”
Adams continued to play even after graduating high school and becoming a Marine. Being stationed in the warmer climate of North Carolina did not deter him from continuing to indulge in his passion. He played on the varsity ice hockey team on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, eventually becoming team captain.
Opportunities to get on the ice were scarce during his two deployments to Afghanistan, but he hadn’t lost his edge when he returned.
Adams became more active in ice hockey when he was sent to Hawaii, playing in a local adult league as well as coaching three youth hockey teams with players ranging in age from 5 to 17.
Being stationed in Hawaii means he hasn’t had an opportunity to skate on his home ice in a while, Adams said.
“The last time I was in this neck of the woods was during leave before heading out to Hawaii, which was almost two years ago,” he said. “So when this opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance.”
Forming a Team
That opportunity was when team coach Marine Corps Maj. Scott Kleinman advertised about playing on the Marine Corps Ice Hockey Team. Kleinman approached the Marine Corps three years ago with the intention of establishing an official All-Marine Ice Hockey Team. His plan was to model it after the All-Marine Football Team, where players are on orders to the team to practice and play. Kleinman learned that financial concerns meant the team could not be supported by the Corps.
“I wasn’t going to stop there,” said Kleinman, the operations officer for Marine Corps Western Recruiting Region. “There is a lot of interest in a hockey team from players across the Marine Corps, so I was still going to see my goal through.”
Kleinman published a memo last August accessible to everyone in the Marine Corps seeking applications for an unofficial Marine ice hockey team. Forty applications quickly came in, enough to form a complete team that drew players from every corner of the Corps.
“Hawaii, Alaska, South Carolina, Virginia, California — all coming together out of this common interest to play and represent the Marine Corps through sport,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Tyler Bluder, an aviation ordnance technician at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. “We all took leave in conjunction with each other to make up this team to play this weekend; we haven’t even been together for more than 24 hours, and we’re about to take on our first game.”
In addition to being a composite team, it is entirely self-funded. Each team member paid his own way to Maine from their respective duty stations. “That’s how much we want to see this team work and become something bigger,” Adams said. “We get to do what we’re passionate about and represent the Marine Corps in areas that may not have a Corps presence.”
The first day of the tournament was the first time the team had even met, much less played together. It is that spirit and passion for the game that Adams said he hopes to spread across the Corps.
“There’s unique camaraderie both in the Marine Corps and the hockey community; not having played with each other before is more of a formality at that point,” he said. “We instantly meshed and worked with each other’s skills. I have high hopes for the team, and I’m excited to help take this as far as it can go.”
Planning is already underway for the team to play in future tournaments, and Adams said he intends to participate in as many as he can.