West Chester, Pa. --
Most Guardsman set goals, not many can say that they have made and stopped them--on ice.
Fifteen hockey players associated with Horsham Air Guard station can do just that as members of the newly-formed Horsham Reapers hockey team.
The team took to the rink fresher than the ice behind a Zamboni, as their initial team practice doubled as their first competition together in the Face Off for Autism tournament, April 25, 2015, at Ice Line Quad Rinks here. Although the baptism-by-fire event showcased a developing team, the players themselves brought an array of experience from novice to professional.
Goalie and architect of the Horsham Reapers Senior Airman Jason Thomas, 111th Security Forces, formed the squad as a result of his experience playing on an active-duty Air Force team at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Upon joining the Guard, he wanted to form a team.
"As far as my hockey experience, I didn't play competitively until out of high school, until I was active-duty Air Force," said Thomas. "I played street hockey as a kid, but playing on the base team was awesome. It was such a positive experience to go out and (play hockey competitively) with a bunch of guys who are also your military family."
Thomas, a Pottstown-area native, said that upon returning to the east coast after six years on active-duty, he assumed he'd be able to find others who'd like to form an official team.
He was right.
Rallying up a team of people with puck-handling experience resulted in a hat-trick of players: 111th Attack Wing members; wing member family and friends; and an Army National Guard civilian employee. While each brought a different skill set, the camaraderie, charity and love of the game were underlying themes through the daylong event.
"I have played my whole life," said Ukrainian-born Airman 1st Class Igor Karlov, 201st RED HORSE, Detachment 1 supply technician. "I played overseas professionally and in a lot of leagues in the U.S. That was my job.
"And it's amazing to be able to be playing here today with my fellow Guardsmen. Everyone on the team here is so friendly and welcoming. So far, it's been an incredible experience."
The team also married the state's Army National Guard and Air National Guard into one joint force in the name of hockey.
"Although a few on the team have played together before, this is the very first time all of us have played together as a team," said Walter Brand, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team medical case manager for the Army National Guard at Horsham Air Guard Station. "I think that we're on a path where we're going to continue to get better and better the more we play together.
"Also, it allows us to come out here, cut loose and have some fun," said Brand. "We'll always be able to support each other on the battlefield; now we can support each other here at the rink."
The crew persevered against four teams, playing back-to-back games out of the gate--testing the team's endurance. Each match allowed the players to coalesce, ending with a win against the final team.
"Our defense improved and we had forwards coming back to help out," said Thomas. "We also switched some players from defense to offensive to help scoring. Overall, team play improved each game."
The plan for the Horsham Reapers is to continue on the winning path.
"Our plan is to get as much ice time as we can and practice as a team," said Thomas. "As far as our future plans, we'd like to join a local league and start playing more competitively and eventually make our way out to the (Armed Services Hockey Classic) tournament in (Las Vegas, Nevada) this November."
For more information on the Horsham Reapers contact Thomas at, email@example.com.