Eagles take third at USAFE hockey tourney

Tom Duggan
Contributing Writer

The KMC Eagles hit the road for the 2006 USAFE Ice Hockey Tournament in Garmisch that involved eight Army, Air Force, and Canadian Forces.  After five  hard fought games the Eagles finished in third place.

The Eagles came into the tournament as one of the favorites.  With the Eagles having never won the tournament in their 12 year history, their fifth place finish last year landed them as the third seed in Pool A to start the tournament.  

A relatively easy 7-1 victory over Shape got the tournament started for the Eagles.  Paul Hilfer, John Hale, and Eric Schoenhals led the scoring with two goals each.  

As the Eagles had expected, the next game would be a whole different story. 
Matched up against their old rival the Bitburg Bears, a team that the Eagles had beaten twice previously this season, the Eagles found themselves behind 5-4 with just over a minute remaining in the game and pulled Woolley from the goal to add an extra skater in hopes of tying the game up. 

The result was not what the Eagles had hoped.  Furiously scrambling in the Bitburg zone to tie the game, the Eagles lost possession of the puck and Bitburg raced to the Eagle end of the ice and scored the open net goal that resulted in a 6-4 final score in Bitburg’s favor.    
***image1***The only hope remaining for the Eagles to advance to the medal round was to beat the Geilenkirchen Flyers, a Canadian Forces team that has won the tournament for four straight years and a team the Eagles had never beaten in the 12 year history of the tournament.  With all the other participating teams wanting a new champion, and those teams knowing a Flyer loss would eliminate them from the medal round, the Eagles suddenly found themselves a whole new fan base.

It was a game that was everything it was expected to be – close checking, hard skating, and very defensive.  Schoenhals scored the first goal to give the Eagles the lead in the first period.  The Flyers tied it up late in the second.  Despite some late third period Eagle penalties, a thrilling finish saw Hilfer netting the game winning goal.  The 2-1 result in favor of the Eagles dashed any hope the Canadians had of a fifth straight title.  For the Eagles, it was on to the tournament semifinals against the Baden Bruins.

Although the Eagles came out strong against Baden they found themselves down 3-2 after two periods due to some heroic goaltending by Baden goaltender Dave Ralston.  Firing shot after shot, Hale finally scored the game-tying goal on Ralston late in the second period.  A third period goal by Jeff Bigwarfe, his second of the game, gave the Eagles a 4-3 lead only to have the Bruins tie it up with 30 seconds left to send the game into sudden death overtime.  With the Eagles playing shorthanded, a puck careened off Woolley and into the Eagle net with 10 seconds, giving Baden a 5-4 victory.  

The Eagles went on to defeat Aviano in the consolation match 6-4 to land a third place finish.  

Baden faced Bitburg in the tournament final with Bitburg capturing this year’s crown.  Paul Hilfer, Eric Schoenhals, Lex Litzen, John Hale, and Merrill Slepica were named as USAFE tournament All Stars.