What the puck! Eielson Icemen shoot for resilience

  • Published
  • By Airman Carson Jeney
  • 354th Fighter Wing

In Interior Alaska about six months out of the year are dark and cold which can be isolating and depressing for some Airmen. However, a group of Eielson Airmen have found one way to boost their social and mental environment through ice hockey.

“Alaska is very remote and there's not a lot of things to do here so finding something to do that you really enjoy is a little bit difficult for some people,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Candace Nolan, Eielson Icemen hockey team member. “Hockey is something that you can just pick up at any moment in time. You can buy a pair of skates, figure it out, and you don't have to be good, you just love to do it. And being able to just get out and do something in Alaska and not sit at home in the cold just helps so much.”

When U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas DePhillips, Eielson Icemen team captain, arrived here, there wasn’t a hockey team to join due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but he and a small group of fellow Airmen were determined to get the Zamboni rolling.

“We ended up finding another smaller group that had ties to the base team, which was around for 29 years, but wasn’t fully standing anymore because of COVID. So, in a way we kind of restarted the team rather than just joining an already existing team,” said DePhillips.

For the Eielson Icemen hockey team being able to play the sport after a long day at work is a way for them to work on their comprehensive fitness. Comprehensive fitness is a holistic approach to develop over-arching fitness and resilience by focusing on four main pillars: mental, social, spiritual, and physical. By homing in on these specific domains Airmen are better suited to have a healthy work-life balance.

“Mentally, it's a great reset for so many people,” said DePhillips. “When you get out on the ice, that's all you're worried about at that time. You just have to worry about playing a game with your friends.”

Other members of the team also believe that participating helps them mentally put stress in the penalty box.

“It helps me because I have a lot of stress at work,” said Nolan. “I'm a 24-hour shifter, so I’m constantly working and most of the time I don't even get to come to practices, but whenever I do, it is definitely just a big stress relief.”

Alongside the mental pillar the hockey team has taken on a familial role, bolstering the social pillar.

“It’s a social team,” said DePhillips. “We all hang out outside of the rink as well. We go to Thanksgiving at someone’s house and then Christmas at somebody else's house. We spend the holidays with each other and then we travel with each other.”

For some, the hockey team has been a key part in constructing their social circle.

“I'm not a very big social person,” said Nolan. “I don't really go out that much. But here I've met so many people, even people that aren't playing hockey. We've met people in the community that aren't even military, and I've become lifelong friends with them.”

Since being established, the Eielson Icemen have faced off against Fort Wainwright’s team almost annually. To prepare for this, the team practices multiple times a week.

“Peak season we’re skating two or three times a week,” said DePhillips. “Sometimes even four or five times a week.”

The hockey team consists of 70 members, including active duty, Guardsmen, Department of Defense contractors, and dependents. The team is also always looking for more members.

“Joining the team is a great way to develop yourself as an athlete and Airman,” said DePhillips. “It fosters friendships that last much longer than just the time you spend here at Eielson.”

The Eielson Icemen are set to face off against Fort Wainwright on Jan. 19th.

To learn more about CAF, visit https://www.152aw.ang.af.mil/Members/Comprehensive-Airman-Fitness-Program/