The Sky isn't the Only Place the Royal Air Force Flies

We all know the Royal Air Force can fly around the sky; but did you also know they can fly around the ice? A select squad from Britain's Royal Air Force, comprised of players from bases all over the United Kingdom and abroad, landed in Windsor in 2016 to participate in their first CARHA Hockey World Cup. 

We had the opportunity to discuss their experience and the game of hockey with team captain and Sgt. Iain Pagano. 


  1. Ice hockey isn’t the leading sport in the United Kingdom; how did you all come to have such a shared passion for the game?

Our players have a varied background in the sport, many are from towns and cities that have rinks including Edinburgh in Scotland, Sheffield and Nottingham in England, and Cardiff in Wales. Others have played other forms of the sport such as inline roller hockey. We even have players who are new to the game and only laced up the skates in the last few years. The Royal Air Force gives our personnel the chance to try a sport out and if they enjoy it, we try to help them develop and improve in any way we can.

 

  1. The Royal Air Force is a very competitive team, how many people typically try out to represent the squad?

The Royal Air Force have as excess of 150 players. Our representative side the RAF Aces generally travel with a squad of 22, although due to operational commitments that number may change.

 

  1. We know the numbers on the back of your jerseys bear particular significance, can you tell us about that?

RAF ice hockey has a rich history running back to WW2 when Canadian Aircrew based in the U.K. played the sport alongside their British allies. When the sport was reintroduced into the Royal Air Force, then Chairman Squadron Leader Keith Hildred wanted to ensure that our players earned the right to become an Ace. So we followed a tradition that nods back to WW2. The term Aces is a title accorded to the top flying ace of a nation's air force during time of war.  Usually awarded after achieving five confirmed kills or successful missions.

Our players are known as an Ace after competing in five Inter-Service fixtures vs. The Royal Navy or British Army or/including an international tournament such as the CARHA Hockey World Cup. When they reach the five game milestone they have the right to choose a shirt number that will be theirs until they retire from the Service.  

 

  1. Is the comradery and unity in the hockey rink similar to the comradery and unity you see when you’re on duty?

I don't need to sell ice hockey to anyone that knows the game, it's a fast and physical team sport; something any military strives to encourage.  In the RAF, ice hockey is a key enabler to foster our core values of respect, integrity, service and excellence.  
 

As many would have seen in Windsor, the RAF Aces have great team spirit and this always transfers to their primary duty when they come off the ice.

 

      5. What does the CARHA Hockey World Cup mean to your team?

2016 was our first CARHA Hockey World Cup and the professionalism and spirit of the event is by far the best we have experienced, I can imagine it's on par with any professional world championship. Following the invitation from CARHA organizers, the World Cup will be a permanent fixture on the Royal Air Force calendar. 

 

  1. What is it like coming from a country where hockey isn’t as prominent, to Canada for a tournament where hockey is everything to us?

Coming to Canada to play hockey is like a football (soccer) fan going to Europe or Brazil.  Hockey is everywhere; it's in the news 24/7, going to an equipment store is like letting a load of kids loose in a sweet shop. 
 

On top of the hockey, we always find that Canadians are some of the friendliest and welcoming people you can come across. Being able to play the game we all love with such passionate people and the chance to forge new friendships and rivalries across the pond is a unique opportunity and an experience to truly savour.

 

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When & Where

April 3rd-10th, 2016 in Windsor, Ontario