That’s it – the 31st Armed Forces Alpine Classic is in the books – and what a tournament it was!
In terms of results, there were some tough heartbreaks to digest – but there were also many encouraging results, individual trophies, and a lot of fun among the huge Vikings family who gathered once again in the historic ice rink at the foot of the Zugspitze.
The Vikings sent almost 50 players in four different teams to Garmisch, in the hopes of bringing home one – if not two or three – championships this year. Especially with the top team (Vikings Black) fielding one of the strongest rosters in the club’s history with Viking veterans flying in from all over the world (even from South Korea), and our third team (Vikings White) in playoff shape (currently tearing down the local DPL Division 5) – everything was set for a great tournament success.
The support was also overwhelming. With many friends and families joining the teams in the Bavarian Alps almost doubling the Viking presence in the old Olympic rink, the atmosphere was (as to be expected at the greatest tournament of the year) absolutely amazing.
Friday was reserved for the preliminary round in order to place the teams in the right divisions and featured many unbalanced matches (e.g. Vikings Black cruising to a 23-0 victory or Vikings Grey getting wrecked by A- and B-level teams), but also gave everybody time to settle in and enjoy the nice weather, food, and beer.
Saturday then featured the round-robin games in the matching skill groups, with Vikings teams starting in the A, C and D divisions. Vikings Black won all three games against the Bayern Rangers 1, KMC Eagles 1 and GK Flyers 1 with a combined score of 17-3, securing a berth in the A-level final on Sunday. Vikings Red fought hard in two close matches against Aviano and Tribase but was not able to win either one. The meaningless third game against KMC Eagles 2 was won 9-0 and secured third place in Division C.
Vikings White was able to win all three games against Bayern Rangers 3, GK Flyers 2 and SMC Mustangs 3 with a combined score of 15-4, clinching a spot in the final of Division D, setting them up against the second Team from SMC Mustangs 2 on Sunday.
Maybe the biggest surprise of the weekend was the success of Vikings Grey – featuring many beginners and first-time participants in the tournament, but still managing a 2-1 win against Bayern Rangers 3 and a scoreless tie against SMC Mustangs 3 in the round-robin, setting them up to play for third place against GK Flyers 2 on Sunday.
Having two undefeated teams in the finals of their respective divisions and an unexpected visit of Vikings Grey to the “small final” for 3rd place set the table for a great finish to the Alpine Classic. The highlight of the day however was an unexpected friendly game featuring unlikely rosters: As KMC 2 didn’t have enough players to compete in the third place game against Vikings Red, the captains reached out to other teams in order to fill up the rosters. Players from KMC 2, GK 1 and GK 2 came together with Vikings Red, all the sticks went in the middle of the ice and then two mixed teams of Army, Air Force and Civilians from at least five different nations played in a friendly game representing the spirit of the AFAC: Bringing together NATO-Countries from all over the world to put rivalries aside, form friendships, and celebrate hockey together.
The third place game for Vikings Grey was in itself already a success – having reached that game and being able to compete in the small final was a huge confidence boost for the group, not having played any other real games during the season so far. The game was close and at the end of regulation the score was tied at 2. This is when the least favorite part of hockey for any Vikings began: The penalty shootout. Both goalies were outstanding and it took 6 rounds to determine a winner. Unfortunately the GK Flyers 2 came out on top, winning a close and hard-fought game by a score of 3-2.
Vikings White then lined up to face SMC Mustangs 2 in another close and emotional game which the Mustangs were able to win due to some outstanding individual efforts on their side. Both teams were fully engaged in the final which led to back-and-forth action, intense battles, and several penalty minutes as well. All-in-all a great effort by Vikings White, although the final score was 3-1 Mustangs.
The big final on center stage featured the two strongest teams of the tournament, Vikings Black and KMC Eagles 1. Although the Vikings had won the first encounter against KMC 4-1, it was clear that this game would be really close. During the first period both teams started with a slower pace – testing the waters and looking for opportunities without giving up much, the score at the end was 0-0. In the second period the Vikings increased the tempo and were able to put more pressure on the Eagles which paid off in the form of a 2-0 lead at the end of the period. In the third period both teams showed signs of fatigue – it was a long weekend for everybody involved. KMC had the upper hand for most part, but the Viking’s goalie stood on his head, saving a few high-danger chances in the first half. But with 5 minutes to go, in an end to end battle with chances for both teams, KMC cut the Viking’s lead in half with a screened shot from top of the circle. Then came the final minutes where KMC threw everything at the Wiesbaden net and was able to tie the game up late. The clock ran out. Tied Game. Another shootout – and again it was the Vikings kryptonite: After 5 scoreless rounds KMC was able to put one in – completing the comeback and once again breaking the Vikings heart in the shootout.
So even if two second place and a third place are not too bad, we all felt like we had missed a few golden opportunities to bring home another trophy. Nevertheless, individual players stood out throughout the whole tournament with two top-scorer titles (Division A: Matt Flaherty, Division C: Jannik Paluschtzik) and one top goalie award (Division A: Mike Griffin) going to our Vikings teams.
In the end it was the Vikings family experience that mattered most to us all: Enjoying the time we had together, seeing old friends returning to the team from all parts of the world, bonding between friends, families, and players – and celebrating the greatest hockey club on earth! Oh, and of course to drink one, but only one beer, at peaches after the games… BTW: Shoutout to Vikings Black for winning the Boat Race final against Vikings Red at our legendary annual team dinner! We will come back even stronger next year and put up another big fight and finally take home the cherished championship(s)!
Thanks to everyone who came out, laid everything on the line (including ribs, fingers, and hamstrings), supported us (thanks for the drumming and shouting everybody) and helped make this amazing experience possible. From the families, to our club management, the tournament organizers and the refs: we had a blast! Thank you – see your next year and: Go Vikings Go! Go Vikings Go! Go Vikings Go! Go Vikings Go!!!