The puck drops, and the game is on. The hard rubber disc, like ice when frozen, can be a deadly projectile when shot too hard amongst the sticks on the ice. Even when shot with little force, the puck could still give a player a nasty bruise, but when fired with just the right amount of skill and finesse, in the right location, that seemingly dangerous object may soar into the net, scoring a team the winning goal.
Several Sailors assigned to USS Nimitz (CVN 68) are currently making a name for themselves, because of their skill and finesse with a hockey puck. They’re known as ‘The Old Salts’ and as one of the few afloat commands in the Fleet to competitively play in a ice hockey league.
The ‘Old Salts’ are the first command hockey team in more than ten years for Nimitz, nicknamed for the ship being the original and oldest Nimitz-class carrier. The decade between teams made building a team from scratch difficult for Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Andrew Claveau and Aviation Ordnanceman 2nd Class Garrett Strachan, who are ‘The Old Salts’ team captains. They had to gain enough support and interest from the command to be able to get it started.
“It can be hard keeping a team going on a ship when players are constantly being cycled in and out,” said Claveau. “You have people of all different skills being mixed in and still the same focus towards winning the game and staying unified as a team has to be maintained.”
Luckily, though, reviving the team after a decade-long hiatus ended up being easier than the players imagined.
“This turned out not to be that hard, as Nimitz pushes for Sailors to be physically fit, and we didn’t want to pass up any opportunity for exercise,” said Strachan, “Hockey, being a very vigorous sport, filled that void.”
With funding from Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR), the team began its first season this fall competing in the men’s league at the Bremerton Ice Arena.
“The rink may not be extravagant, but that doesn’t matter,” said Strachan. “It’s the little things that make playing the sport worthwhile. It’s stepping out onto the ice and smelling the distinct smell of the rink and the sweat that lingers in your uniforms the whole day. It’s feeling the cold air seeping into your lungs as you breathe and everything bad just melting away, your mind becoming clear. Just give us a stick, and a puck, and we could be lost out there forever.”
Skating on ice may be second nature to an experienced player, but that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park. Constantly keeping their heads on a swivel, team members of ‘The Old Salts’ must be aware of their teammates’ positions on the ice constantly.
“It’s a very fast-paced sport,” said Claveau. “If you’re not looking or paying attention to who’s coming up beside you, you could easy collide. To avoid this, we’re constantly talking about what needs improvement as we move throughout the game.”
The game of hockey is not typically picked up easily. As a full-body contact sport, most players can usually be found on the younger end of the age spectrum. Typically, those who aim to be competitive start to learn how to play as early as five years old. Age, gender, and prior playing experience, however, don’t matter to “The Old Salts”.
“Anyone can come play with us,” said Claveau. “We are a co-ed group open to all junior and senior enlisted ranks. We have players who have played the sport all their lives and some who have only recently picked it up. Ironically, some of our better players seem to be the oldest on our team. Our oldest guy is in his thirties.”
‘The Old Salts’ hope to continue to build a competitive hockey team that can play for the ship long into the future.
“This is a sport that can be played all year-round and not just while we’re in the yards,” said Claveau. “Everyone can bring their equipment underway, and as the Nimitz pulls into ports around the world, the team can still play. No command afloat needs to be limited from playing a sport.”
No good team should be limited from practicing either, especially when it comes to shooting that hard, rubber disc that can bring so much pain or joyous victory.
Story and photos by MC3 Lauren Jennings