EAGLE RIVER, Wis. — The guys from the Dry Heat Hockey Club were excited to compete in the 14th annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey Championships.
However, the two teams from Phoenix almost didn’t get to play.
Thirteen guys flew into Minneapolis on Thursday and with snow and rough weather, their connecting flight to Rhinelander, Wisconsin — which is the largest airport near Eagle River — kept getting delayed. The players split up and half journeyed up north on a four-hour car ride to Wausau, and the other half stayed in Minneapolis. After a 14-hour standoff at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the guys caught a late flight up to Rhinelander, getting to the airport at 3 a.m. on Friday morning. When the sleep-deprived players went to baggage claim, only one of their 13 bags appeared in the carousel.
The players made the late-night drive 30 minutes to Eagle River Stadium, which is also known as “The Dome,” where the local high school team plays as well as the adult amateur hockey team, the Falcons.
“We met some great ladies at ‘The Dome’ and they sent a Facebook post to the area and they all rallied and found us equipment so we could play all day [Friday],” Dry Heat team member Dave Dement said. “I was getting phone calls from people I didn’t know and they really stepped up and were able to get us stuff so we only had to forfeit one game.
“It was fantastic. What a great town.”
Since the guys got in late to Eagle River, a number of them were sleeping in on Friday morning. But a call came in from Dement telling the guys to head a few miles to “The Dome” where they had equipment waiting for them. The Dry Heat players gathered their gear and got over for the A team’s first game at 9:45 a.m.
“I wore two different goalie skates and I taped shin pads around my jeans and I got gloves and someone loaned me a helmet and a stick and we just went at it, man,” Dry Heat team member Ryan Partridge said.
Getting dressed at Dollar Lake prior to the game, word spread about Dry Heat having lost luggage.
“Guys were coming in and saying, ‘Who needs what?’” Partridge said. “They were just giving us stuff, and it was awesome.”
Josh Duffy was the only team member who had his bag at the airport, so he loaned out warm clothes and toiletries to his friends.
“You’ve got to give it up to the Eagle River people, you guys are amazing individuals,” Duffy said. “They totally hooked us up. Much thanks to them. I don’t even know all their names, but they are just amazing people, really appreciate it.”
At 5 p.m. on Friday night, Partridge and two of his teammates went back down to the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport and picked up their 12 bags. They finally had all their hockey equipment and winter clothes.
“We were like jumping around the airport,” Partridge said. “Everyone was like looking at us like we’re crazy.”
The guys were able to adequately layer up and stay warm while competing. Used to the dry heat of Phoenix, the Dry Heat team members managed to stay warm in the cold, negative-degree temperatures in Eagle River. Partridge grew up in Michigan, so he knows how to deal with cold.
“I haven’t been in this weather in 11 years, so I was kind of nervous, but we got down here and you start playing the wind’s not blowing, it’s not too bad,” Partridge said.
“The wind is what killed us on Friday,” said Duffy, who grew up in Dallas before moving to Phoenix. “That’s what made things really brutal.”
Drained from their off-the-ice journey, the guys had a rough going in the tournament. The Dry Heat A team won its first game 15-3 over Never Was but lost its next two games by two goals each to finish 1-2 in the Intermediate 30+ Division. The B team, which had to forfeit its first game, went 0-3 in Bronze 30+.
The two teams might not have played their best, but the guys created some memories during the tournament they will cherish the rest of their lives.
“It’s just been a great ride along the way,” Duffy said. “It started out really crappy, but it’s getting better and better.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.