PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
On a weekend historically dedicated to tailgate parties, million-dollar TV commercials, puppy bowls and halftime extravaganzas, members of the Air Force Technical Applications Center hockey team traveled to Washington, D.C., Super Bowl weekend to face off against the Canadian Embassy, a first for the Florida-based club.
Let by team captain Bill Hungate, a senior scientist at the nuclear treaty monitoring center, eight players made the trip to play a game that was a few years in the making.
AFTAC’s hockey team is made up of skaters who work at the Department of Defense’s sole nuclear treaty monitoring center headquartered at Patrick AFB in Cocoa Beach, Fla. Since 2015, the hockey enthusiasts have played more than 60 games, most of them for charity, as a way of coming together in a sport they all love.
“Back in May 2018, we hosted the FBI on our home ice in Rockledge, Fla.,” said Hungate. “When it was time for us to travel to the National Capital Region to play the FBI on their home ice, they suggested we make a double-header out of it and play their cross-town rivals at the Canadian Embassy.”
Forward Mike Nolan could barely contain his excitement at the prospect of playing against the North American team.
“These guys are Canadians!” he said, with a hint of reverence in his voice. “They represent the birthplace of hockey and probably learned to skate before they could walk. I couldn’t wait to take to the ice for our match-up with them.”
According to Hungate, the Embassy team was loaded with talent including Kirk Sullivan, who played collegiate hockey at the Royal Military College of Canada, which competes against universities and academies including the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
From the opening faceoff, it appeared the Canadians were in it to win it and quickly took a 3-0 lead in the first period. Before the start of the second period, Hungate rallied his teammates with a quick pep talk.
“I reminded the guys to keep the mistakes to a minimum and not to lose confidence,” he said. “We can easily gain the momentum back, so let’s go out there and put some behind their goalie.”
As the second period began, the Canadians quickly changed the score to 4-0. AFTAC responded with a goal of their own three minutes later, and at the end of two, AFTAC knotted the score at 4-4.
“Bill flipped one by their goalie early in the third, and we never trailed again,” said defenseman Tommy Flynn. “It was really exciting to be a part of this game and represent AFTAC in our nation’s capital.”
With just two minutes left in the game and the scoreboard showing 8-6, the Canadians pulled their goalie to get a 6-on-5 skating advantage.
“I don’t ever want to see that many Canadians in our defensive zone again!” Nolan joked. “I was proud of our resiliency to win the game with only ten players. Every person on our team contributed with either a goal or an assist. Total team effort!”
AFTAC scored an open-net goal and went on to win, 9-6.
Getting a team on the road is never easy, especially since their first priority is accomplishing the AFTAC mission.
“A full squad is typically 14 skaters, but we left Florida with eight,” said Hungate. “Nolan was able to reach out to some of his friends at the Fairfax County Fire Department and secured two more skaters for us.”
Hussein Hirji, a Canadian diplomat and team captain of the Embassy’s team, had nothing but praise for the Florida-based team.
“From my perspective, AFTAC brought some of the best of what this country has to offer, and our game was a great symbol of friendship between our nations. It was a pleasure and an honor to play this great group, and I hope we can do it again soon.”
Hungate and his team were touched by Hirji’s comments, and are already looking at dates to host the Embassy at the Space Coast Iceplex and possibly return to Washington, D.C., in the future.
“This was truly a first-class experience all around,” said Hungate. “I love this sport, and I love how it brings people from such varying backgrounds together. I can’t thank the FBI enough for connecting us with the Canadian Embassy, and I hope they will come to Florida so we can show them the same level of courtesy and respect as they showed us.”