The Fort Benning ice hockey team wrapped up its final practice Monday at the Columbus Ice Rink before it plays the Columbus Cottonmouths Legends Saturday and Marine Corps base Camp LeJuene (N.C.) Sunday.
The two games are part of a weekend of events planned at the Columbus Civic Center.
The Fort Benning team will play the Legends, a team comprised of former Cottonmouths players and coached by Cottonmouths head coach Jerome Bechard, at 6 p.m., which will be followed by the Cottonmouths’ game against the Mississippi Surge at 7 p.m. The game against the Surge will be military appreciation night for the Cottonmouths.
The hockey team will play again at noon Sunday against the Marines and the Fort Benning Doughboys will play an arena football game against a Marine Corps team from Cherry Point, N.C., at 7 p.m.
Ken Porter, who was invited to play for the Columbus Cottonmouths in December and will play on the Fort Benning team, said most players are more excited about the game against the Marines.
“A lot of bragging rights are involved in games between two services,” Porter said.
But the Legends game also has its intriguing angles, said Brian Kee, the team’s captain. Bechard has been coaching the Fort Benning team during practices, but will be coaching against it during the Legends game.
“I think we’ll give them a good game,” Kee said. “The things (Bechard) is teaching us are what he teaches the Cottonmouths.
“He said, ‘Monday night is the last practice and you guys are on your own after that. I’m not giving you any more of our secrets.’ We haven’t seen the Legends play, but he has a full scouting report on us.”
However, Kee said Bechard will coach the Fort Benning team when it plays the Marines.
“I think we have a really good advantage having a professional coach teach us simple systems to help us in the game,” Kee said. “With any sport, it’s all about doing the little things right.”
Bechard also hosted the team’s tryouts Jan. 12 and 19. Kee said about 50 Soldiers tried out for the team.Scott Hodges of 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment, said he was surprised at the turnout.
“It was amazing to see the amount of people who still have the drive to play,” said Hodges, who will be playing defense for the team. “I was impressed with the tryouts. They had great scrimmages that let you see everyone’s skill level.”
The team also has a female Soldier — Kat Hathaway, a former collegiate player at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.
Growing up playing youth hockey in Tacoma, Wash., Hathaway said she is used to being the only female on a team.
“It’s not a new feeling,” she said. “I honestly don’t think it even bothers my teammates.”
Kee said he hopes more games will be scheduled this year, but that will depend on the support the team garners.
“Getting people interested in hockey in the South is always an uphill battle,” he said. “I think people are kind of shocked that we have a hockey team. We have a team and I don’t think we’re going to go anywhere for a while.”