Three NATO Allies put their relationships on ice, as military hockey teams from Latvia, Canada and the United States participated in a friendly competition held April 22, 2023, in Valmiera, Latvia.
The four games, which included matchups between teams from all three countries, were part of the Stronger Together Hockey Exhibition, a series of military hockey events that, through a shared love for the game, strengthened partnerships and demonstrated unity among Allies.
“We share a lot of cultural similarities,” said Canadian Army Sgt. Brandyn Tomayer, who is assigned to Task Force Latvia. “We all love hockey. That we can get out and share this kind of competition shows the strong relationships between us.”
The U.S. team, composed of 13 service members and civilians currently working on U.S. military installations in Germany, played its first game against players from Canada’s National Support Element and Task Force Latvia. The final score was tied at two goals each, but Bob Peller, who played right wing on the U.S. team and is the U.S. European Command J8 deputy director, said it was the kind of game that could have gone either way.
“The Canadian team had some skilled players that could take advantage of our mistakes and heavily tested the U.S. goalie,” he said. “They transitioned rapidly from defense to offense, which forced us to play in greater depth in the offensive zone.”
The Latvian and U.S. teams faced off in the final game of the evening. While the U.S. team led the Latvians in scoring (3-1), the Latvian defense put heavy pressure on the top U.S. players, preventing them from scoring on several occasions. The U.S. goalie, Gerald Stalder, the U.S. Africa Command J52 deputy division chief, also played some of his strongest games to keep the team competitive, Peller said.
Despite competing against each other on the ice, the players said playing hockey together reinforced the military partnerships they value every day at work.
“Normally, we are doing the one job that unites us,” said Latvian hockey team captain and Latvian National Guard Sgt. Maj. Arvis Solim. “Normally, we are in the trenches together. But here, in sport -- in ice hockey -- we can play against each other, improve our physical conditioning, strengthen our partnership, meet other players and share experience.”
While this part of the exhibition lasted just one evening, U.S. Army Capt. Adam Evanski expressed hope that he will have more opportunities to face Allies on the ice.
“We play hard against one another, but after the game we come together and we all know it’s just a game,” he said. “We see everybody afterward in line shaking hands and patting each other on the back. There’s nothing like battling it out on the ice, or in any kind of sport for that matter, and then coming together at the end to congratulate each other on a good game. I hope we have more of these games in the future with our NATO partners.”