7th Infantry Division has a hockey team

The Bayonets love the game, Lanza approves

By Gail Wood on February 19, 2014

Since joining the Army 20 years ago, Scott Fitzgerald has always tried to bring a little piece of his past with him wherever he goes.

Whether he's been stationed in Germany, or in Leavenworth, or, as he is now, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Fitzgerald packs his skates and hockey stick. This soldier is also a hockey fan, through and through.

"Basically, I grew up on skates and skis," Fitzgerald said.

And rather than just dream about the good old days - Fitzgerald was an all-conference player in high school back in Vermont, and later he played on his college team at the University of Denver. Fitzgerald, who is now a lieutenant colonel and battalion commander with the 7th Infantry Division, started his own hockey team.

Basically, he's owner, GM, coach and player. It's all about being on the ice, competing.

"It's awesome," Fitzgerald said. "It's a great stress reliever. I love it."

This team - which is made up of soldiers from the 7th Infantry Division - is special. And not just because they're winning.

"We all seem to be one. We get along very well," Fitzgerald said. "There's been absolutely no locker room issues, which is a first for me in my last 10 years of hockey experience. There's always been a locker room cancer. But not on this team. We play well together."

To get a chance to get back on the ice, to play hockey again, Fitzgerald has been willing to plunk down some cash. Finding a good discount sale, he paid $600 for the team uniforms - 20 jerseys at $30 a pop. He's put in more than $2,000 of his own money - which includes, jerseys, socks, equipment and ice rental time - to get this team in this Tacoma Junior Hockey League. That's not counting the $1,000 he paid for his own dues as well.

"It was an investment," Fitzgerald said.

And his return on his investment isn't money. It's the thrill of winning a hockey game, the enjoyment of being on a team and the excitement of chasing a loose puck and slapping it toward the net for a g-o-a-l. Just being on the ice is reward enough for Fitzgerald.

"Whether we go far into the playoffs or not, that's secondary to me," Fitzgerald said. "Yes, we want to win. But there is a love for the game. And the competition. This has been the most fun team I've been on in my Army career."

After winning their first 11 games, the Bayonets dropped a couple of games, yet they're still in first place with a 20-4-1 record after 25 games. Their starting lineup has been robbed by deployment. They've lost their top two scorers and their top two defenders. After starting with 20 on the roster, they're down to 15. They'll lose another two players in March and maybe one more in April.

"It's almost been constant recruiting and trying to fill those gaps as folks go out the door on assignment," Fitzgerald said.

Being the player/coach doesn't make Fitzgerald, the commander of the 109th military intelligence battalion, immune to getting new assignments and being shipped out. In May, Fitzgerald heads for Afghanistan.

So, Fitzgerald will miss next season. He's looking for someone to coach and organize the team for next season.

"Hopefully, I'll have someone who I can pass the jerseys and socks on to and keep this going," Fitzgerald said. "If I come back somewhere between October and February, I'll play for the team next year as well. But I won't be able to be the coach and captain next year."    

The level of talent ranges from rookie, new skaters, to long-time vets who have played for nearly 40 years, like Fitzgerald. He's the only skater on the team who played hockey in college.

"I've been on really good teams and we won the league championships," Fitzgerald said. "There's a competitive piece to this group."

Taylor Jones leads the Bayonets in points with 19 goals and 25 assists in 22 games. In just 11 games, Hector Rios scored 24 goals and had 10 assists for the Bayonets before going on assignment. Andrew Stough has added 16 goals and 15 assists in 21 games. Other players to score for the Bayonets are Kenneth Longo (10 goals, 18 assists), Bryan Halicki (20, 7) and Fitzgerald (14, 5).

The rank of the soldiers on the Bayonet hockey team ranges from private to colonel. Fitzgerald and Brad Herman are both lieutenant colonels. Fitzgerald got a surprise during his talk with Lt. Gen. Stephen Lanza about the expectations of a commander last May. Lanza, like Fitzgerald, grew up playing hockey and is a hockey fan.

At the end of their discussion, Fitzgerald popped his question about hockey.

"I said, sir, with your permission I'd like to create the 7th ID hockey team," Fitzgerald said. "I didn't know at the time, but he's also an avid hockey fan."

He's a New York Islander fan, just like Fitzgerald.

"I had his blessings to start a team," Fitzgerald said.

So, Fitzgerald, with the help of the communication department, put out fliers to recruit some players. He didn't get the same response he would have gotten if he was recruiting a basketball team or a baseball team. But surprisingly, about 30 players, hockey players who had actually been on skates before, showed interest.

And just like that, Fitzgerald was living his dream, not just remembering it.

"Hopefully, it continues next year without me," Fitzgerald said.