At the end of last year, the RAF Ice Hockey Association held its most comprehensive development camp to date. Two of the Association’s rising talents shared their ice hockey journey in a recent interview.

Doncaster Dome public skate at the tender age of five was where it all began for RAF Vulcans’ netminder, Kyle Jones. He tells the story that his mum tried to hold his hand, but off he went…. He joined a hockey pickup session and the next few years were spent on roller blades, destroying the garage door until he outgrew the stick and skates.

Joining the RAF gave Kyle the opportunity to re-visit his childhood passion, a chance meeting with SGT Jennie Anstey, club manager at Cosford Stars, led him down a new path and into goal. Jones explains, “Jennie popped her head around the door saying, “we really need a RAF goalie”, I replied, “Yeah, I’ll do it, I’ll be the best!” Jones stuck to his word and the rest, as they say, is history. He spent two successful seasons at Cosford Stars before making the move to East of England team, the Vulcans.

Kyle gained his first Cap for the Aces at last summer’s UK Armed Forces Ice Hockey Tournament, it was a steep learning curve, but he is undeterred. Then followed an amazing week for Kyle and his Vulcans team mates at the RAF Championships in Dundee where they beat reigning champions, Lossiemouth Jets, to take the RAF Champions trophy. “Talk about dreams coming true” says Kyle, glowing with pride.

Kyle waxes lyrical about the lasting friendships he has made with teams and players over the past four years; there is still much to learn though and the Saints development camp is the culmination of his hard work so far. Jones is full of praise for the new coaching structure, “the setup is excellent, the experience of the coaching staff and attention to our development is phenomenal. A single week is the equivalent of a few months worth of training sessions” he goes on to add, “for me as a netminder, there’s a lot less emphasis on simply stopping the puck – the focus is on doing it right. The camp allows time to really concentrate on making the next save crisp and technically sound – the big jump from competent to competitive.”

Jones is optimistic for the future, “I’d ideally like to start training with some league teams, I feel that’s the next step up in intensity and skill level for me. Fingers crossed I will carry on with this upward trajectory, I’m only getting started!”

How does a boy from Jamaica, land of sunshine, the ‘Jewel of the Caribbean’, end up playing ice hockey? A wide grin breaks across Lossie Jets defender, Vinnie Daniels’ face as he recalls watching The Mighty Ducks as a kid, “It blew my mind!” As luck would have it, one of Vinnie’s Phase II training instructors was RAF Ace Iain Pagano and he set him on his ice hockey journey. Daniels explains, “I chose my first posting so I could play…and have a few other crazy adventures too!” And it’s been quite an adventure for the defender so far; representing RAF Ice Hockey at the RAF 100 Celebrations, competing in the RAF Championships and UK Armed Forces Ice Hockey Tournament for Lossie Jets and an overseas visit to the Czech Republic.

Daniels states being invited to the RAF Saints development team as his proudest achievement to date, in his own words, “proof that all the hard work I’ve put in since I started, means something and an indication that I have what it takes to represent the RAF at a high level.”

The Saints development camp has been a turning point for Vinnie, he enthuses, “the event is mainly team play focused, breaking down the fundamental systems that make up hockey to refine our understanding. I may not have the edge physically, but if I can be a few moves ahead mentally, then the game may be more in my favour, it reminds me of ‘The Art of War’. Vinnie is full of admiration for the coaches, “they have helped greatly with my understanding of my role and purpose, in addition, receiving valuable feedback on improvements I can make to my game.”

Vinnie’s future aspirations include being chosen to represent the RAF Aces, “If I’m going to climb the mountain – I might as well aim for the summit.” Ambitions aside, Daniels is reflective, “The most important thing to me is the personal development, the journey is as much inside yourself as outside, if you can’t forge yourself into what you want to be, you’ll never get to where you want to be. Being in the RAF Champs final and losing because I was a weak link in the team hurts more than I cared to admit, but it’s fuel for the fire that will make me what I need to be – this is definitely bigger than just a game for me.”

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