Canadian air force players are mainstay of Tinker hockey teams

  • Published
  • By John Stuart
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Sit back a moment, if you will, and take note of what comes to mind when you think of our neighbors to the north -- no, not the Kansans. The Canadians.

Images of snow and ice and moose fill the mind, mixed with Maple Leaf banners and the words "hoser" and "eh." But finally, as you thaw out a bit, you come to rest on the cultural epicenter of the expansive northern country. It's an epicenter built on a frozen rink, traversed by sharpened blades and all focusing on one simple objective -- getting the small black thing in the back of the net.

If hockey were suddenly stamped out and no longer existed as a sport, it's likely the whole population of Canada would instantly meet their demise. A bit like if all the oxygen were sucked from the atmosphere in one go.

But thankfully -- for them -- that's certainly not the case. Even here at Tinker, the hockey tradition is alive and well. And even within the protective base walls the Canadians have infiltrated (legally mind you) the U.S. Air Force and managed to bring their beloved sport with them.

Canadian air force Sgt. James McCarron has been stationed at Tinker for two years. While he's many miles from his Moosejaw, Saskatchewan home, he gets a little piece of that home every Sunday on the rink at the Blazers Ice Center.

As a captain of the Tinker Nordiques hockey team, the 30-year-old right wing/center feels right at home in Oklahoma City. And he's not alone. Forty-three Canadians call Tinker their home away from home, many of them connected to Airborne Warning and Control System operations. And each week, a contingent of those Maple Leaf Airmen finds solace in the familiarity of being out on the ice -- playing hockey for Tinker.

"I'd probably be a lot more homesick if I wasn't able to play hockey down here," McCarron says on the team bench following a resounding victory in the season opening match Nov. 1. "Luckily I haven't had to go a long time without playing on a hockey team."

Like most Canadians, McCarron got his hockey start early. He had a stick in his hands and was out on the ice at age 5. Today, 25 years later, he's still holding that stick and strapping on his skates week in and week out.

"I know down in the States here baseball is your game, but it's just so slow," McCarron says. "Hockey is a fast paced game and there's always something going on. It's just exciting, there's a lot of action going on in a hockey game."

But it wasn't always so good for McCarron. He describes a low time in his life, a time when he first moved to Tinker in 2007 and went without hockey. It was agonizing and horrible, he says. He didn't get to play hockey for two whole weeks.

But things picked up in the nick of time and fortunately he got his emergency ice-time transfusion. It was a crisis averted and McCarron has made sure to avoid droughts like that ever since.

For the players who are committed to it, hockey is about more than what happens on the ice. It's a pastime, a brotherhood; a place to heckle and shout things from the bench and get rowdy. And occasionally, it's a time to brawl, as hockey wouldn't be hockey without some scuffles.

"Now, at this point in my life it's about the people," McCarron says. "Hockey players are always just good people. You watch it on TV and guys are beating on each other and fighting. But, there's just something about hockey players that at the end of the game you're gonna shake each others' hands and it's left on the ice. That's the great thing about hockey is just the people."

McCarron helped lead the Nordiques to a summer league championship alongside fellow team captain James Behn. Despite losing some games early on, the team bounced back to claim the Division Two title in the playoffs and are looking to channel that energy into the winter season.

"We had a great summer season and we're looking to keep that momentum going into the winter season," McCarron says. "We struggled in the summer season but managed to come back and win it in the playoffs so hopefully we'll keep that momentum going."

McCarron is one of six Canadians on the Division Two Nordiques team and a number of Canadian air force players round out the other two teams that sport the Tinker jerseys in lower divisions.

While McCarron would like to say Canadians are naturally better hockey players, he's hesitant to make the statement after the results of the Canadian-American Cup in February -- a Tinker match up that pits the two countries' players against each other.

"Unfortunately we had that Can-Am Cup last year and the American team from the 552nd Air Control Wing came out on top by a goal," McCarron says with a laugh. "I don't want to say too much because I'm sure they'll post something on their board when we play again next year. I'll just say it was a pretty even competition between the Canadian and American teams."

And in the end that's what it's about for the Tinker hockey teams -- dishing out some heckling and certainly taking some as well -- and just having a good time. The Canadians are a unique addition to the Tinker community on base, and are a vital infusion to the hockey teams that play off base. And it's safe to say, if you come out to a Tinker hockey game, you'll see the Maple Leafs flying proudly on the jerseys, and a brotherhood joining two countries.

"It's just a chance to see some of the guys that you don't get to work with, hang out and have a good time," McCarron says. "That's what hockey is all about at this level, having a good group of dudes and having a good time."