LEWISTON, Maine --
The teams sets up in formation. Their minds are both on the objective and the opposition that lies before them. The moments before initial actions are tense, curtailed breaths showing out in quick wisps from beneath their helmets. A resounding “thump” is heard and both sides execute their battle plans.
Thomas Adams punches through the opposition’s defenses to carry the puck around the net and shoots it past the goalie’s leg for a point on the board.
Adams is a member of the Marine Corps ice hockey team, a 15-man team, playing together for the first time during the weekend-long International Fire, Police and Military Winter Games hockey tournament, Jan. 15. But, what’s truly important isn’t their competing in the game, but that Adams is a Marine stationed in Hawaii and traveled more than 5,000 miles to compete in the hopes that he and other Marines can share his love of the game.
“So how did I end up in Maine in the dead of winter to play a few games of ice hockey,” Adams said, reflecting on the events leading up to the game. “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.”
Adams, born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts, was introduced to ice hockey at the age of three. He remembers how opportunities to skate are frequent when living just outside of Boston 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,” said Adams. “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 earning the title 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 quite scarce during his two deployments to Afghanistan, but he didn’t lose 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 ranging from ages five to 17. The difference in distance to his Lynn hometown was much different than when in North Carolina, so his skating on home turf was now infrequent.
“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,” said Adams. “So when this opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance.”
That opportunity was when team coach Maj. Scott Kleinman advertised about playing on the Marine Corps Ice Hockey Team, a team more than three years in the making. Kleinman approached the Marine Corps three years ago with the intention of establishing an official All-Marine Ice Hockey Team, such as how the All-Marine Football Team players are on orders to the team to practice and play. Due to financial concerns, however, Kleinman was told the team was not able to be supported.
However, a love for the game and a passion that burned within each of them urged them to find a way to make a team possible.
“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 to gather applications for an unofficial Marine ice hockey team. Forty applications quickly came in to form a complete team drawing 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 Sgt. Tyler Bluder, an aviation ordnance technician out of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Ft. 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 found their own way to Maine from their respective stations. This means Adams purchased airfare and lodging between Hawaii and Maine, nearly the furthest points of travel in the country.
“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.”
Friday was the first time the team had even met, much less played together, yet one wouldn’t be able to tell. It is that spirit and passion for the game that Adams 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,” said Adams. “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 has already commenced for future tournaments for the team to play in, and Adams intends to participate in as many as he can.