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Can-Am Cup looms, teams brace for April 23 clash

This month will mark the second time for the 552nd ACW Canadian Detachment to meet their American 552nd counterparts on the ice. American team captain Jim Behn, left, and Canadian team captain James McCarrron will lead the head to head hockey clash for the second annual 552nd ACW Can-Am Cup. (Air Force photo by John Stuart)

This month will mark the second time for the 552nd ACW Canadian Detachment to meet their American 552nd counterparts on the ice. American team captain Jim Behn, left, and Canadian team captain James McCarrron will lead the head to head hockey clash for the second annual 552nd ACW Can-Am Cup. (Air Force photo by John Stuart)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- When Canadian Master Corporal Chris Walsh first stepped on Tinker soil two years ago, he knew one thing: he wasn't in Kansas anymore. Or Winnipeg, rather, his de facto northern hometown. The Maple Leaf Airman was starting a new duty assignment in Sooner country. But little did he know that he would also soon be fighting for the honor of his whole country at large.

To hear him say it the cold was to blame. Though an avid hockey fan growing up, he offered his support from the comfort of a warm sofa instead of a first-person role on the ice. Simply put, this Canadian didn't know how to skate before he landed at Tinker. While Oklahoma perhaps seems an improbable place to take the plunge into hockey, Walsh did just that.

"When I was a kid it was too cold, I didn't like outdoor rinks," Walsh said. "My toes froze so I never actually picked up skating."

Now, after a few seasons Walsh is finding his niche as a forward and loving the game more all the time. For two seasons the AWACS communications technician has played with the Tinker-affiliated division-four Canucks team, which won their division championships this spring.

"When I got (to Tinker), they said 'join the team.' I said OK, but I couldn't even skate when I joined the team two years ago," Walsh said. "So now I'm still not great, but it's fun."

This year, as in the previous one, Walsh and some his 42 fellow countrymen at Tinker will face off in the second annual 552nd Air Control Wing Can-Am Cup April 23. Walsh, who's with the 552nd ACW Canadian Detachment, will square off against his American counterparts from the wing in what's becoming a major unit draw in Tinker sporting lore. The game is at 6 p.m. at
Blazers Ice Center in Oklahoma City, located at the Interstate-35 and Interstate-240 intersection. Admission is free to the family-friendly event.

Last year, the Canadians fell 5-4 to their American counterparts in an exciting game. But this year, buoyed by a Canada ice hockey gold at the Vancouver Olympics, the Maple Leafs want that trophy even more. It will be difficult, Walsh said, noting that some key players will be missing due to deployments. But sheer force of will certainly isn't lacking on this bench.

"We want it because it's our national identity," Walsh said. "This is a national pride thing. Everybody's playing with their colors, but it is also for friendly rivalry and camaraderie. But we're going to try. We'll follow up those Olympics. We'll see if we can do that too."

This year will mark the 31st year that the 552nd ACW Canadian Detachment has called Tinker home. And the hockey match is a unique way to highlight the ongoing partnership through a friendly rivalry.

Walsh cedes the annual Can-Am softball game to the Americans with a simple "That's kind of your guys' sport. We get wrecked pretty good." But hockey? Them is fightin' words. This year's match will be one you won't want to miss.

"Anything to accentuate that we are partners but also have our own identities is nice," Walsh said. "But it's always fun to win, I don't care what you play. It's a lot of bragging rights."