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  • Veterans day shows that Army is "America's Team" Print
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Monday, 12 November 2012 16:52

    Despite many sports teams staking the claim to being known as "America's Team," the Army Black Knights are one of the few teams in sports that have a legitimate claim to the title.

    Various professional and collegiate sports teams often put claims in to be known as “America’s Team” in their respective sports.

    The Dallas Cowboys have long made the claim in the NFL, while the Atlanta Braves often call dibs on the title in Major League Baseball.

    But for all the claims, Veterans Day should make clear that the Army Black Knights hockey team is really “America’s Team.”

    “Being here is a huge opportunity for my future,” said Army forward Mike Santee. “But being here is also an opportunity to give back to the people in this country who have given me so much.”

    The concept of “giving back to the United States” is a central theme around the Army Black Knights, who are based out of the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York.

    While the rest of the country’s Division I college hockey players are looking to use their experiences in NCAA hockey to earn themselves pro contracts, Army players have chosen to put in the same effort it takes to be a top-level college athlete, and then forego the potential riches of professional contracts to serve the United States.

    “For a vast majority of us, playing here is ‘it’ for our careers,” added Santee. “A select few of us get to continue our careers—Zach McKelvie went here and is now playing in the AHL for the Abbotsford Heat. But for the most part, when you come to this school, you understand that while hockey has been your life up to this point, that this is probably going to be it.

    “There’s quite a few of us who will go to school here for five years, which is the normal length of time for a West Point student,” added Santee. “A lot of us will do our five years here, join the service and explore the world. Some of us will stay here and be career officers. Others will do eight years in the service and get out. It’s a pretty good mix of what people choose to do with their careers after being at this school.”

    While there’s an assortment of ways that Army hockey players will serve their country after graduation, there isn’t as much flexibility to their schedules when they’re in school.

    For Army hockey players, it’s a 6:20 a.m. wake-up call every morning, followed by formation for breakfast at 6:50. After a quick breakfast, it’s off to class at 7:30, with most players having four solid hours of classes until lunch at about noon. After lunch, most players return to class until 3:30, when their daily, two-hour hockey practice begins, followed by dinner, homework and lights out at 11:00 p.m.

    This is the unrelenting schedule of an Army hockey player from Monday-Thursday, with weekends being set aside to for traveling and completing most of their 32-game regular-season schedule.

    “Time management gets tough sometimes,” said forward Josh Richards. “You go to day classes, practice and have a bunch of homework. Not too much sleep.”

    On some level, the balance of attending classes, practice and doing homework is no different than any other college hockey player in America. But considering that part of West Point’s curriculum includes physical activities to keep students in line with the military’s physical fitness requirements, the extra load that Army players take on is a testament to their extra level of both dedication and discipline.

    “We all have specific training programs,” said freshman forward Thane Heller. “We’re all in the gym every single day. The only difference between hockey players and other students is that for us, every exercise is geared towards hockey. For us, it’s mostly weight lifting, while if you’re a regular student, it’s mostly running, pushups and sit-ups, which are the three exercises in the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test.)”

    For all the individual challenges that Army hockey players face, the team’s collective challenge is trying to be a competitive hockey team on top of maintaining their educational and military commitments.

    Adding to this challenge is the fact that most of Army’s opponents don’t have the same level of daily responsibilities. In fact, many of Army’s opponents will eventually have large portions of their best players landing professional contracts.

    “Guys on other teams have that incentive to try to turn pro and we’re just out here for the love of the game,” added Heller. “I think this helps the team, though. Nobody is out here looking to put up a bunch of points. Since we know that this is ‘it’ for most of us, it’s easy for it to be all about the team here.”

    This past weekend, the Black Knights had their toughest weekend of the season, dropping 5-0 and 4-1 decisions against their division’s top team, the Niagara University Purple Eagles. While Army is just 2-5-1 overall this season, it has a 2-2-1 record against in-division opponents in Atlantic Hockey (AHA), giving the Black Knights a respectable sixth-place standing out of 12 teams.

    “I think our team is doing a great job after coming in here with a lot of young guys, after I think we had 11 seniors graduate last year,” said Santee. “We’ve had to adjust to a whole new system this year—having a ‘clean slate’ has been our motto. We’re a lunch-pail, hard-working, meat-and-potatoes type of team. We’re hard on the forecheck and try to play the body as much as we can. We try to make things happen through hard work and effort.”

    Although it’s hard to say what Army’s final record is going to be this season, banking on the Black Knights exhibiting an exceptional work ethic, on and off the ice, is a given.

    Factoring in that Army players will eventually use these same efforts to keep their fellow American citizens safe—safe enough to allow their current opponents to be able to pursue professional careers in freedom—it almost seems silly to ever call the Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Braves or any other team “America’s Team” as a result of winning games or championships.

    Although wins and championships are what provide teams the platform to make their claims on, Veterans Day should make clear who “America’s Team” really is. Just don’t expect to hear it from an Army hockey player.

    Because seeking personal accolades just wouldn’t be their style.

    Did You Know?

    The United States Military Academy was established on March 16, 1802 in West Point, New York, which is located 60 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River.

    Prior to being the location of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point was a strategically-placed military outpost which dated back to the Revolutionary War.

    The reason that the Continental Army chose West Point for an outpost was because controlling West Point meant controlling the Hudson River. Jutting out from the western shores of the Hudson River and based on 18th century technology, West Point was the only spot on the Hudson that was so narrow that it couldn’t successfully be navigated around without stopping.

    During the Revolutionary War, this took on added importance as the Hudson River also virtually split New England and the rest of the 13 Colonies from one another, meaning that controlling West Point meant being able to divide and conquer the country for the British, and preventing the British from dividing and conquering the country for the 13 Colonies.

    Because West Point was seen as the key to North America for both sides, it became the military outpost that Benedict Arnold attempted to relinquish from American control into British control in his infamous act of treason.

    Of course, Arnold’s plot was discovered and refuted, and the fort—originally called “Fort Arnold”—was renamed “Fort Clinton.” West Point—as Fort Clinton came to be known as— remained in the Continental Army’s possession and the 13 Colonies eventually became the United States.

    Playing hockey in this exact location two centuries later, the members of Army’s hockey team won’t have classes on Veterans Day, in remembrance of what came before them.

    Lest all Americans not fail to use Veterans Day as a day to remember.



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    Last Updated on Sunday, 18 November 2012 21:45