MINNESOTA – It was a weekend of pucks, hockey sticks, grinders, and blockers. No matter the team or if you are a player or onlooker, a good time was had by all at the 7th annual Wildfire On Ice Hockey Tournament, Jan. 13, at the Walker Area Community Center in Minnesota.
“It’s our best (tournament) ever,” said Mike Rice, event organizer and USDA Forest Service fire management officer on the Chippewa National Forest. “We had very generous donations and a great turnout at the event, so we were about to exceed last year’s $21,000 total.”
A total of $26,000 was raised this year to benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation through donations, silent auction, raffle tickets, merchandise, and concession sales. Rice said the WFF ambassadors are a crowd favorite and personalize the efforts of the foundation, which formed in 1994 shortly after 14 firefighters perished in a fire on Storm King Mountain, Colorado.
From the humble beginnings of a pick-up hockey game organized by Mike Mansson, Superior National Forest, and Nate Perrine, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the WOI Hockey Tournament has evolved into a regional, mid-winter classic with several hundred participants who plan for the weekend getaway.
“Wildland firefighters, family and interagency friends look forward to socializing, playing hockey, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, and raising funds,” said Rebekah Luedtke, Minnesota Interagency Fire Center manager and event organizer.
Four Minnesota wildland fire agencies represent the hockey teams: Minnesota Incident Command System, captain Mike Mackey, Chippewa National Forest; U.S. Department of Interior, co-captains Seth Grimm and Darrin Franco; USDA Forest Service, co-captains Mike Mansson and Vance Hazelton; Chequamegon National Forest; and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, co-captains Dan Wiley, Cass Lake and Pat Wherley, Cloquet, Minn.
WFF is based in Boise, Idaho, and supports firefighters beyond insurance and worker compensation. Its mission is to help families of firefighters killed in the line of duty and to assist injured firefighters and their families. WFF also provides funds to memorialize fallen firefighters.