Ice in their veins: Father, son share love of hockey playing on Tinker teams

Tinker Nordiques Louie Lomonaco is a torrent on the ice. The soft-spoken defenseman is a major contributor for the Nordiques, and has a long personal history with the game, which he contributes to his hockey-savvy dad.

Tinker Nordiques Louie Lomonaco is a torrent on the ice. The soft-spoken defenseman is a major contributor for the Nordiques, and has a long personal history with the game, which he contributes to his hockey-savvy dad.

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Louie Lomonaco can't remember a time before hockey was in his life. There was only ever the crisp slicing of sharpened blades across ice. There was only ever an angled stick gripped by his padded hands.

So depending on whom you talk to, the best place to learn the ways of hockey in North American is Canada. While Lomonaco didn't have this Maple Leaf privilege, he had the next best thing. He had the Last Frontier.

"I started in Alaska where we lived for about four years and then we came down here to Oklahoma," Lomonaco says, outlining his hockey roots from where he started at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks.

Lomonaco stands with a bulging equipment bag that could hold several children and leans forward slightly, resting his weight on a pair of hockey sticks. The standout Tinker Nordiques defenseman has just finished a hockey game. There's a noticeable swagger of fatigue upon him and an evil smell leaking out of his bag -- par for the ice hockey course. But don't let the soft-spoken nature confuse you. This hockeyeur is all fire on the ice.

While much has changed since that first time Lomonaco strapped on his skates at age 3, there's also a lot that hasn't: he still plays hockey every week, he still watches hockey on TV, and he still shares a common hockey interest with his dad, Sam Lomonaco, Louie's first coach and live-in hockey guru of old.

To say this father and son have a lot in common might be an understatement. At least in terms of their hobbies.

"It's a lot of fun and this is a mutual thing," Sam Lomonaco says. "(Louie) always tried to skate faster than me and always tried to out stick-handle me and now he's far beyond me. It's been a competitive thing with us but it's been fun."

Sam Lomonaco, who retired as a master sergeant with Tinker's 34th Combat Communications Squadron in 2005, was instrumental in starting a Tinker-affiliated hockey team in the late 1990s. The father-son duo played on the Tinker Hawks when there was only one team and helped lead them to several division championships at a time when hockey was gaining popularity across the country.

Today their lineage is alive and well, as five different hockey teams claim Tinker allegiances. But these guys just like playing hockey. Even if it is an "oddball" sport.

"I think it's a fast-paced game," Louie Lomonaco says. "You're always doing something. It's an aggressive sport and not too many people play it. It's kind of an oddball sport, but it's in my blood. I started playing when I was young so it's just kind of a part of me."

But to allay any confusion, the hockey player clarified his statement.

"No, I'm not an oddball," Louie Lomonaco says with a chuckle. "I am different, but I wouldn't say an oddball."

Though he's not an oddball, hockey certainly isn't for everyone. But in his view, the 21-year-old college student has never been "seriously injured." The litmus test? No blackouts on the ice. But Louie Lomonaco does have some gritty stories like every hockey player.

"I just recently got hit in the face with a puck," he says. "I got some stitches and just got them out. I blocked a shot and it hit me in the face, so that was pretty painful. The dentist said my tooth might be dead, but the only way you can tell is if it starts to turn gray then it just dies and you have to cap it.

"I got two screws in my ankle when I played with one team. I've broken my thumb, jammed fingers, but I've never been knocked out or anything."

Sam Lomonaco had a different start with hockey. Growing up in cold country, the Buffalo, N.Y., native got his debut with pond-hockey games. Since league teams were expensive, Sam Lomonaco didn't play organized hockey until adulthood.

"I've just always loved the sport. I always wanted to play organized hockey but my parents just couldn't afford it," Sam Lomonaco says. "I grew up in Buffalo so we'd go down to the neighborhood pond they had at the playground. I just love to ice skate and the teamwork and the fast pace of the sport. It's just one of those things that I love to do."

But with a heart for coaching, Sam Lomonaco's sense of accomplishment always increased with his son's success.

"It's been fun watching him grow and develop and get better," Sam Lomonaco says. "It's always fun to see your kids succeed at stuff."

Sam Lomonaco now plays for the Tinker division-three team, while his son plays for the division-two squad. Though on different troupes, the things that initially attracted them to the game are still the ones that keep them playing it.

"I enjoy hanging out with the guys," Sam Lomonaco says. "It's my night out. We go out there and talk about the week before the game and we go out and play and talk about the good hit here and a good shot there afterward. We sit around and have a few laughs. It's good friendship and a good bunch of guys."

"It's been a good experience playing hockey with my dad and getting to bond a lot," Louie Lomonaco says. "I know not too many people have a father they can hang out with all the time. I'm just lucky I got one who likes the same stuff I do."