‘Blue Line’ meets fire line for a good cause

More than $27,000 raised at seventh annual hockey tournament

2016 Wildfire on Ice logo 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 seventh annual Wildfire on Ice (WOI) hockey tournament, Jan. 13 2018, Walker Area Community Center.

2018 WOI champions, Department of Interior
2018 WOI champions, Department of Interior beat DNR 8-7 in overtime

“It’s our best ever,” said Mike Rice, event organizer and U.S. Forest Service fire management officer for the Chippewa National Forest (CPF). “We exceeded last year’s total of $21,000.  We had very generous donations and a great turnout at the event,” Rice said.

With combined donations, silent auction, raffle tickets, swag and concession sales a total of $27,000 was raised this year to benefit the Wildland Firefighter Foundation (WFF) and several representatives attended the event:

  • Dina Pfeifer, WFF Operations Manager, Boise, Idaho
  • Sam Percy, Ochoco National Forest; organizer of the “Rip-n-Lips Fundraiser” in Oregon
  • Julie Christopherson, WFF Bereavement Advisor

Rice said the WFF ambassadors are a crowd favorite and personalize the efforts of the foundation, which formed in 1994 shortly after the Storm King Mountain tragedy. Based out of Boise, WFF 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. This year, WOI was host to two families of fallen wildland firefighters: Dave, Sharon and Beth Toepke, parents and sister of Alan Toepke; along with Mike and Cassie Diver, parents of Cody Bauer.

Crowd of hockey players and families at the Wildfire on Ice hockey tournament
Many interagency players and spectators participate in WOI each year

From the humble beginnings of a ‘pick-up’ hockey game organized by Mike Mansson, Superior National Forest (SPF) and Nate Perrine, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the WOI hockey tournament has evolved into a regional, mid-winter classic with several hundred participants who plan on the weekend getaway.

“Wildland firefighters, family and interagency friends look forward to socializing, playing hockey, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling and raising funds,” said Rebekah Luedtke, event organizer. “In 2014, we partnered with the Walker Area Community Center on beautiful Leech Lake.”

Four Minnesota wildland fire agencies represent the hockey teams:

  • Minnesota Incident Command System (MNICS); Captain Mike Mackey, Chippewa National Forest
  • U.S. Department of Interior (DOI): Co-captains Seth Grimm and Darrin Franco (FWS)
  • U.S. Forest Service (USFS): Co-captains Mike Mansson and Vance Hazelton, Chequamegon National Forest
  • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR); Co-captains Dan Wiley, Cass Lake and Pat Wherley, Cloquet

“A total of $10,000 worth of raffle tickets were sold again this year,” said Pat Wherley, event organizer. He and Vance Hazelton were emcees at the banquet and silent auction. “We had a good turnout at the banquet and this year it was held at Chase on the Lake Resort.”

Crowd at 2018 banquet at Chase on the Lake Resort, Walker (Bekah Luedtke photo)
2018 WOI banquet, Chase on the Lake Resort (Bekah Luedtke photo)

With friendly competition during the hockey tournament, there is a lot of camaraderie off the ice. Highlights of the event also include:

  • Josh Meyers, National Park Service (NPS) was named 2018 most valuable player (MVP). He scored the winning overtime goal for DOI to take the championship (8-7) in overtime against DNR.
  • USFS beat MNICS (4-2) in the consolation game.
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Greg Peterson presented a handmade willow cane (the ‘AARP Award’) to DNR’s Paul Olson as outstanding “elder” (60-years and older) hockey player.

“There is competition but the tourney is all in good fun,” said Rice, who has many roles for the occasion. He and wife Melanie are Walker area residents. Year-round, they are part of a support network of hockey players, firefighters, fans, volunteers and donors.

Planning has begun for the 2019 Wildfire on Ice, Jan. 18-19. To donate or participate visit the WOI website: http://wildfireonice.com/. Learn more about WFF at https://wffoundation.org/.

(*Mary Nordeen photos)