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Massena native joins Royal Air Force on the ice

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MASSENA — A Massena native serving in the Air Force hasn’t let a deployment in the United Kingdom keep him from enjoying his love for hockey. Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Dwyer has been playing ice hockey for a Royal Air Force team and recently participated in its annual weeklong Tri-Services Tournament. He was the Eastern Crusade’s second-string goalie.

“Last year when I was stationed here in England I made contacts with a team that was kind of like a pick/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.”

He said he grew up playing soccer and taking martial arts, making 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,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Dwyer joined the 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 stationed at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall. For the past year, he has been a member of Eastern Crusade, a Royal Air Force ice hockey team made up mainly of RAF members from the United Kingdom, along with a few from the U.S. Air Force and one from the Canadian.

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.

Staff Sgt. Dwyer was the goalie. 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, the team won a 2-1 game against the RAF Brize Bluewings and 4-1 against Royal Army Sappers. With Staff Sgt. Dwyer’s goaltending, the team was on top of its division after two days and leading with the fewest goals against it. The team made it to the final four but suffered two losses. It was still a solid season, Staff Sgt. Dwyer said. “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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