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Army takes on Navy in hockey

Brian Dalton, right, takes a shot at the net against Chris Upshaw during the Army’s team practice at the Tacoma Twin Rinks in Tacoma Sept. 11. Photo credit: Edzel Butac

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The Pacific Northwest region offers a myriad of activities for service members fortunate enough to be stationed here. But what if your passion is not offered or not readily available to you? What then? Well, for former soldier James Schuyler, you find folks with the same interest and build it from the ground up.

That is exactly what Schuyler, and his friends did back in 2015 when they established an ice hockey program in Bremerton. And he found some Navy sailors who had the same passion for hockey and they started the Army vs. Navy hockey series.

This year's game will be played at the Kraken Community Iceplex, the Seattle Kraken's practice facility in Seattle Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. It is free to attend, and all Department of Defense ID cardholders can arrive between 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. for early entrance into the arena. Seating is limited for the game, so claim your free reservation at

"I have a passion for hockey, and I just started looking for players who love the sport like I do," Schuyler said. "It's also a morale booster and an outlet for service members who might be going through some tough times mentally."

The Army leads the series over the Navy 4-1.

In 2016, they had enough players and sponsorship to hold the inaugural Army-Navy hockey game. The game was not played in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so this year's game is extra special for the players.

"This is my second year playing and I'm super excited to play against the Navy," said Ben Ihrie, another former soldier who served three years in the Army as an infantryman. "Last time I played in March 2020 before the pandemic shut everything down, we won in a shootout and hopefully we can get another win this year."

For 2nd Lt. Kai Farmer, a member of the Washington State National Guard, this will be his first time to play in the rivalry.

"I have no idea what to expect, but the game should be enjoyable," Farmer said. "I played Tier 3 junior hockey but took some time off. I picked it back up when I went to grad school and played with some clubs and try to stay in shape, so I'll do the best I can to help us win the game."

A few players on the team such as former Army Staff Sgt. Tyler Vokes, has played in every game of this rivalry since the beginning. He has some advice to his new teammates who are playing their first game.

"Keep your head on a swivel," Vokes said. "The Navy have some heavy hitters out there and they're not afraid to mix it up a bit; and come ready to play and help the Army team win."

Vokes added that it's not just the spirit of the competition that drew him into this game.

"I've been using hockey as an outlet and a source of joy," Vokes said. "When I came to this area in 2014, I was lost a little bit and I found this team in 2015. They took me under their wing and brought me into the family and it's been great."

The Army team has been practicing at Tacoma Twin Rinks in Tacoma, but the game will be played at the practice facility owned by the newest team in the National Hockey League, the Seattle Kraken.

"I'm looking forward to playing at Northgate rink, and to have a lot of fans fill the arena along with family and friends would be cool," Ihrie said. "I think we can grow this game in popularity among service members with JBLM being so close and the Seattle Kraken now in the NHL, hopefully service members get interested in the game and help us grow the Army-Navy hockey game."

According to Schuyler, the best part of the game for the Army team is the excitement they feel of not knowing the talent level of their Navy counterparts. The camaraderie that happens with hugs, handshakes and fist bumps after hitting, cross-checking and slashing each other for two plus hours is also special, he said.

The game is a long way away from the more popular Army vs. Navy football game, but through word of mouth and social media forums, Schuyler hopes to grow the game's popularity not just here, but over all military installations to support service members who also love the game of hockey.

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