KMC Eagles win USAFE title

Story and photos by Ken Robinson
A4 News

The KMC Eagles recently won their third straight U.S. Air Forces in Europe Ice Hockey Championship.  The Eagles finished first out of 10 teams competing in this year’s tournament. The final game between the KMC Eagles and the Canadian GK Flyers, both Air Force teams, ended the same way it did last year, with a dominating victory for the U.S. boys 6-2.

Most of the teams knew that both the Eagles and GK would see each other in the finals. With the way the Eagles have been playing recently, it was clear they were the top favorite going into the tournament.

However, the GK Flyers did have a score to settle after last year’s disappointing second place finish. It took a top Eagles team to find the back of the net against one of the tournament’s top goalies — Sylvain Cloutier. The Eagles’ victory was special for last year’s MVP, Adam Nyitray, because this was his last hoorah before PCSing back to the states. Nyitray has been the dominant force behind the Eagles’ offense for the past three years.

Although the championship game was not as competitive as many had hoped, the third place match-up more than made up for it. The Baden Bruins faced off against the Bayern Rangers in what was the most competitive game of the tournament. Both teams found themselves scoreless going into the second period. It was the Bruins’ left winger Steven May who broke the stalemate early in the period (1-0). They remained tied until the last two minutes of the game when tournament top scorer Chris Sheehan of the Rangers pushed the puck underneath the Bruins’ top goalie, Ryan Flanagan, to tie the game 1-1. The game finished regulation time tied at 1 and was settled via penalty shots. Once again, it was Sheehan who put in the game winner as the last shooter for the Rangers win.

The 19th annual USAFE tournament was held in scenic Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, at the Olympic stadium. Military teams from around Europe came for this three-day competition. Teams competing included the two-time winning Baden Bruins (Army), Bayern Rangers (Army), SHAPE Shields (NATO), Ansbach Choppers (Army), Bitburg Bears (Air Force), Aviano Dragons (Air Force), Stuttgart Mustangs (NATO) and the KMC Adlers (Air Force).

This year’s tournament was full of surprises, the largest of which was the strength of the newly formed Ansbach Choppers. The Choppers surprised all the teams as they gave the top two teams in their pool a run for their money, losing to the second place GK Flyers (0-2) and within one against the fourth place Bruins. Other surprises included the introduction of the RAF Aces. Because the Aces were unable to meet their roster suspense, they were unable to compete in the tournament. Fortunately, many of the Aces found themselves positions on a number of other teams in the tournament, making a huge impact on their foster team’s final standing.

Not only did the tournament introduce new teams (Choppers, Mustangs, and Aces), it also turned an eye on its top director, Tom Burkett, who served at his last USAFE championship. After 15 previous tournaments and 49 years of public service, Burkett will finally hang up his blades for good. His replacement will be Dawn Pierce who will also take over as the new USAFE Sports and Fitness manager.