How hockey helped forge a successful life for retired Air Force general

Beavercreek man opens Academy Hockey Club to help kids learn the game

Throughout the pandemic lockdown, the job losses, the economic downturns and the uncertainty of the health crisis over the past several years, it was often difficult to think about giving back to others. Greg Gutterman of Beavercreek, a retired Air Force brigadier general and lifelong fan of hockey, has made it his mission to give back to the game that gave him so much.

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Gutterman was recently named a “Stick Tap for Service” award finalist by the Navy Federal Credit, recognizing his dedication to his community through the game of ice hockey.

One of four boys growing up in Minnesota, Gutterman said he and his brothers drove his mother crazy, especially during the winter when they were all stuck inside. His father was a truck driver and was often on the road.

“My dad came home one day with a bunch of ice skates,” Gutterman said. “He took us to the park to teach us how to skate, mostly to give my mom a break!”

At age 7, Gutterman started playing hockey, though he was considered a “late starter” to the game. He was determined to catch up and, after playing hockey one year in his age group, he tried out for the travel team and made it.

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“Hockey isn’t a cheap sport, especially with four of us,” Gutterman said. “We did fundraisers as a family to reduce our ice bill.”

Gutterman played through high school and was talented enough to catch the attention of several Division III colleges. He said “divine intervention” happened the day he received a phone call from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado. He was offered a scholarship to play ice hockey and soon found himself being commissioned in the Air Force as a second lieutenant. Hockey coach and Stanley Cup winner “Badger Bob” Johnson attended his college graduation.

“Bob just looked at all of us players and said, ‘Not one of you is here because of your academics. Hockey gave you each a million-dollar education,’” Gutterman said. “He wanted to know how we were going to give back to the game of hockey.”

Gutterman decided then and there that he was going to coach the sport that gave him everything. During his time in the Air Force, Gutterman lived in many places and had 20 different jobs. But he said each time he lived in a northern area, he found a way to get involved in ice hockey. His first tour at Wright-Patterson AFB was in 1993. He and his family left Dayton, but returned in 2007 and decided to make the area home. In 2018, Gutterman retired from the Air Force after a successful career he attributes to the skills he learned playing hockey.

“Part of my retirement plan was finding ways to help and contribute,” Gutterman said. “I knew I was going to continue to coach either high school or college hockey. The life lessons I learned in hockey shaped my life.”

Ice hockey isn’t an inexpensive sport, especially as players get older. And many parents balk at the cost of ice time and the cost of professional instructors and coaches.

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“We dreamed up this thing called the Academy Hockey Club,” Gutterman said. “We wanted to find a way to get kids on the ice sooner and make it available for all kids interested in learning.”

Named for his alma mater, the Academy Hockey Club started in 2016 and is a “no checking” (or no contact) league, so new players can learn without the fear of getting hurt. Last year, Gutterman said the club had about 62 players from schools throughout Dayton and Cincinnati.

Because the key to growing hockey players for life is to start them young, Gutterman and his team are devoted to providing free ice time for youngsters to learn the game.

Through the generous support of several local sponsors and the Navy Federal Credit Union, Gutterman and his Academy Hockey Club are now putting every youngster who wants to learn hockey on the ice free of charge. Designed for elementary and middle school aged boys and girls, the five-week program focuses on the basics of skating, passing, handling and shooting. Everything needed to learn hockey, including skate rentals, is provided free.

“The goal is to get at least 50 percent of the kids who try the game to sign up and keep playing,” Gutterman said. “Integrity, loyalty, teamwork, empowerment, leadership. These are hard words to understand unless you are part of a team. Trust is huge in ice hockey. The ability to work together and build trust are extremely important skills. For us, it’s all about getting more kids playing the game.”

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