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RMC players excited for chance to meet Army at home

January 24, 2014


Patrick Pinder remembers well the day he learned that he was going to play hockey against the team from the U.S. Military Academy.

“I was on my basic training,” Pinder said of the day three summers ago that the news reached him and two of his Royal Military College teammates. “We had a big celebration that we were going to be playing West Point again.

“It was pretty exciting.”

Pinder’s rookie season with the Paladins was the fifth year that the formerly annual hockey game hadn’t been played and there was a growing suspicion that the longer the hiatus continued, the less likely the historic series between the two military academies would ever return.

That’s why the news that it was reinstated came as such a relief to players who feared they may never have a chance to play in a match that, at its zenith, was the longest continuous international series in all of hockey.

“It was a big deal,” said Pinder, a cadet from Calgary now entering his final season at RMC.

“The history of the hockey game means a lot. I know we’re not Team Canada and they’re not Team USA but it parallels a little bit the international rivalry. It means a lot to me, personally.”

Pinder will be playing in his third West Point game Saturday night at the Rogers K-Rock Centre, when the Black Knights from Army will play their first game here since 2006.

You might expect Pinder and his teammates to be eagerly looking forward to the game, but the players are discovering that, as was the case when the rivalry was in its prime, not only are they thrilled, the college is abuzz with talk of the game.

“We’ve got teachers asking about the game, students are asking about it,” said Pinder, whose father, Gerry Pinder, and uncle, Herb Pinder, played hockey for Canada in the 1968 Olympics.

“There’s a lot of talk about this game. It definitely brings everyone into this game. The whole college gets behind us.”

Scott McDonald has experienced the same phenomenon.

“Even profs are saying, ‘We’re all looking forward to coming and watching you guys,’” he said. “I’m in a reserve unit on the base and a lot of senior staff and officers are excited for the game, as well.

“The hockey circle likes the game but it’s also the whole military aspect of the game that brings people in as well.”

A third-year business administration student from Waverley, N.S., McDonald talked about how quickly players absorb the tradition that surrounds a series that dates to 1923.

“The last two years have been an excellent experience going down to West Point,” he said. “It’s more than just a hockey game. There’s the military tradition. We’re such great allies and it’s a tremendous experience for all of us to play, to represent our country and represent our military.

“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Paladins captain Alex Pym said having the series restored “was pretty momentous.”

“It’s even bigger now that it’s coming back to Kingston,” he said.

“We mark it on our calendars when we get here. We look forward to it all year long.”

A third-year aeronautical engineering student from Winnipeg with designs on a career as a pilot, Pym played in the last two West Point games. He said the players look forward to the rare opportunity to play in front of a large crowd. “And it’s a loud crowd,” he said. “It’s not a very subdued one.

“There’s a lot of cadets from both schools, a lot of friends watching. It’s just an awesome atmosphere. Every time you make a hit, there’s lots of cheering.

“It’s such a competitive game, two military style teams going at each other, working hard, grinding. Both maybe not as skilled as other teams in our respective leagues, but working our hardest and really taking it to each other. It’s a really competitive game. It’s awesome. It’s just a lot of fun.”

The Paladins have not won a game in the series since 2002. Five Army wins and a tie have ensued, with West Point winning 9-1 and 4-1 since the exchange resumed.

“The first year we went down we didn’t really know what to expect,” said Pym, a rookie that year. “It wasn’t our greatest effort but it was definitely a learning experience. The next year we got a lot better and we learned how to play against that team.”

Pym said he and the other veteran players take seriously their duty to pass to the first-year players on the team that knowledge and the tradition embodied by the series.

“Hopefully,” he said, “it can go on uninterrupted for quite a long time.”

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