Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Laughlin
U. S. Coast Guard Hockey has a long line of history dating back before World War II. The teamwork, camaraderie and competition continue today at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Coast to coast, enlisted and officer members of the Coast Guard play for unit teams, local teams or volunteer to help out where they can.
Grabast, a Lincoln, Nebraska-native, dedicates his time outside of work to be the team’s medical trainer.
“I enjoy hockey and wanted to assist the team,” said Grabast. “I have always had an interest in sports medicine and being a team medical trainer allows me to do it.”
On duty, as the team’s medical trainer for two years, Grabast volunteers at about 10 home games each season.
“I heard about the opportunity when I was in Coast Guard Health Services Technician “A” School and found out I was slotted to transfer to the Academy’s medical clinic,” said Grabast. “A previous HS was volunteering but he was transferring and the team needed someone to assist them in that role.”
Having a wife and infant daughter at home, Grabast’s time away from work is precious, however he finds time to assist the Academy’s hockey team at their home games usually played on Friday or Saturday nights.
“My family understands that I love volunteering and my wife is very supportive,” said Grabast. “Being part of the team is really fun. They are some of the funniest people I have ever been around and their dedication to the sport is amazing.”
The hockey team practices four to five times a week at a local college’s ice rink starting at 5 a.m.
“We get up at 4 a.m., dress out and take the bus to the rink to make practice at 5 a.m.” said Coast Guard Academy Third Class Cadet Devin Cheifetz. “Once practice is over at 6:15 a.m., we come back to the Academy, have a full day of classes and then some players have afternoon sports like lacrosse to attend in the evenings. It is tough, but worth it.”
The Coast Guard Academy Ice Hockey Team program is an ACHA Division III member playing school, playing in the North East Collegiate Hockey Association.
The team generally plays a 20-25 game season, traveling to states all around the New England area, playing schools such as Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Springfield College, the University of New Haven, the University of Connecticut, the Naval Academy, the Merchant Marine Academy and Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Each team is responsible for providing a medical trainer for both teams during their home games.
“Without HS2, the team would have to pay for a medical trainer at about $3,000 a season,” said Cmdr. Ryan Hamel, the team’s head coach. “His service allows us to play more home games.”
The coaches for the Ice Hockey Team have attended the Coast Guard Academy, played for the team, and are active duty members of the Coast Guard. Each coach is part of the faculty or cadet staff and stay involved in the success of each hockey player on and off the ice.
Hamel’s office in the Operations Research and Computer Analysis Department acts as the team’s headquarters and is a second home to the members of the team regardless of their major.
“Not only do I see Cmdr. Hamel at 5 a.m. morning practices, I visit his office several times a day to check in and sometimes hang out,” said Coast Guard Academy Third Class Cadet Will Sergio. “I love playing hockey for the Academy and HS2 has become part of our team.”
Grabast also has a love for hockey and attempted to play but now goes by the motto of ‘those who can’t, should volunteer.’
“I tried to play once,” said Grabast. “I put on my pads and skates, went out onto the ice and a puck flew a few inches from my face. I skated straight toward the bench where I spent the rest of the game collecting dust.”
Still dedicated to hockey, but now behind the bench, Grabast isn’t out of harms way.
“I have been hit with a rouge puck,” said Grabast. “During my first game as a medical trainer, a slap shot headed straight for the bench, ricocheted off the wall and into my backside. I tried to get out of the way, but in the words of Forrest Gump, it jumped up and bit me.”
During hockey games when he is not being bit in the backside, Grabast is using his emergency medical technician certification as the medic for both teams.
“The work is mainly getting ice for sore or injured ankles and knees,” said Grabast. “The Academy team is very tough and doesn’t need a lot of medical help, it’s usually the other team needing medical attention. At one game, a member of the other team took a puck to the neck and couldn’t breathe.”
Jumping into quick action, Grabast removed the player from the rink, removed his helmet and started a quick medical evaluation.
“He was super unlucky,” said Grabast. “After a few minutes of relaxing he was up and talking again.”
Hockey, a full contact sport, is famous for its fights and injuries.
“We are fortunate to have a Coast Guard HS as the medical trainer for our team,” said Hamel. “His level of medical knowledge far exceeds that of a regular trainer and we are glad that he will continue to work with us for a few more years.”
Hamel, having been a coach for the team for four years, has seen some nasty injuries on the ice; sliced fingers, pucks to the face, twisted legs and once a player suffered a skate blade cut to the abdomen and had to be taken to the emergency room for medical treatment.
Grabast plans to continue volunteering with the team for his time at the Academy.
Tonight the Coast Guard Academy Hockey Team will face off against Connecticut College in their famous annual game.