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Massena native joins Royal Air Force on the ice

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MASSENA - A Massena native serving in the U.S. Air Force hasn’t let an overseas assignment in the United Kingdom keep him from enjoying his love for hockey.

Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Dwyer has been playing hockey for a Royal Air Force team and recently participated in their annual week-long Tri-Services Tournament. He was the Easter Crusade’s back up goalie.

“Last year when I was stationed here in England I made contacts with a team that was kind of like a pick up/beer league through RAF Lakenheath, another U.S. air base, and started playing with them,” Staff Sgt. Dwyer said by email.

“After a few practices, after three years not touching the ice, I was asked by a couple of the British members if I wanted to come and start skating with the Crusade team and see how I fit in. At first it was a challenge since I was the new goalie and with goalies being the way we are, the other goalies were unsure of me. It all turned out to be a good match, and I have been accepted as one of them since,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Dwyer, who was raised in Massena and graduated from Hillside High School in Upland, Calif., said he started playing organized hockey in his early teens.

“This is my church, my comfort zone. Everyone has their place and this is mine,” he said. “I started playing organized hockey at the age of 12 or 13 when I was discovered playing goalie at Alcoa Field by one of the hockey board members who brought their kids out to play. All I had to start with at Alcoa was my baseball mitt, a player’s glove for a blocker and a regular hockey stick.”

Staff Sgt. Dwyer said he had grown up playing soccer and taking martial arts, which made the goalie position a natural fit for him.

“I had natural reflexes and one that I also adapted and learned as I grew into the position. Plus, there’s nothing like taking away a goal from someone that knows for sure they can put one by you and all you do is keep on denying them the whole game. But it’s the most stressful, but yet most rewarding position, I feel,” he said.

“A bit of advice for future goalies is you must have a personality of a jokester and always keep your head up win or lose because you have five others in front of you. You’re the first line of offense and the last line of defense,” he noted.

Staff Sgt. Dwyer joined the U.S. Air Force nearly 10 years ago.

“The honest reason was I was down and out on my luck trying to find places to stay in for the night and I asked myself what one thing I could do to provide housing, money and three meals a day. The military did and since my grandfather, John “Bucky” Dwyer, was in the Air Force and he is my hero, I would follow in his footsteps,” he said.

He is currently stationed at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, about an hour-and-a-half west from London. And, for the past year, Staff Sgt. Dwyer has been a member of Eastern Crusade, a Royal Air Force ice hockey team that is made up mainly of RAF members from the United Kingdom, along with a select few from the U.S. Air Force and one from the Canadian military stationed in England.

“This is my second opportunity since joining back in 2003. I also played for a base team while stationed at Eielson Air Force Base just outside of Fairbanks,” Staff Sgt. Dwyer said.

He played there from 2006 until 2009 when he was transferred to Okinawa.

He had the opportunity to play again after arriving in the United Kingdom.

“The team is made up of military members from the local U.S. air base and Royal Air Force bases close by to Peterborough, although we Americans do travel about an hour and some change each way to make it to practice. The teams we play can be an hour away or up to four or five hours away, all depending,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Dwyer, along with seven others from the U.S. and Canadian forces was recently selected to represent the Eastern Crusade during a Royal Force Tri-Service Ice Hockey Tournament. He said all branches of the services were present, including the Royal Marines, Royal Army, Royal Navy and other RAF teams.

“The tournament had two divisions and, due to the size of the Crusade team, they were split into two teams, the Crusade and the Easter Crusade Division,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Dwyer was the goalie for the Eastern Crusade. He was joined by four U.S. Air Force and five Royal Air Force members.

The team lost its first game against the Royal Marines, 2-1, but bounced back in the next game against the Royal Army Chieftains B team, winning 13-1.

The following day, they won a 2-1 game against the RAF Brize Bluewings and 4-1 against Royal Army Sappers. And, with Staff Sgt. Dwyer’s goaltending, the Eastern Crusade team was on top of their division after two days and leading with the fewest goals against.

The team made it to the final four after they defeated RAF Scotland 3-1 in the first round of the playoffs. They faced the Chieftains A team in the first round of the playoffs and lost 4-1. Their second game against the Army All Stars also resulted in a loss, this one 7-5.

But it was still a solid season, according to Staff Sgt. Dwyer. The Eastern Crusade took home first place in Division B with 20 goals for and five goals against and a fourth place finish among 11 teams in the playoffs.

“Out of everything, our club as a whole took home the Tri-Services Cup and along with it, a year of defending it,” he said.

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