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Hockey delivers a taste of home to deployed soldiers

You can take the man out of Minnesota, but you can't take Minnesota out of the man. Just ask Sgt. Timothy House of the U.S. Army National Guard's Crazy Troop, 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, who has taken it upon himself to start a hockey league in t...

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You can take the man out of Minnesota, but you can't take Minnesota out of the man.

Just ask Sgt. Timothy House of the U.S. Army National Guard's Crazy Troop, 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, who has taken it upon himself to start a hockey league in the unlikeliest of places - Kuwait.

House and the rest of his locally-based unit are on a year's deployment to the Middle East, assigned to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, in support of Operation New Dawn. When the soldiers departed late last spring, they were soon thrust into the midst of the 100-plus-degree temperatures and desert sands of Kuwait and Iraq. And though their thoughts turned frequently to Minnesota, it was more of family and friends rather than the cold, winter days and the recreational hockey league that many of them had left behind.

"About 15 of us used to play in the Carlton league," recalled House, saying they often scrimmaged a couple of days a week at the Cloquet hockey arena as well as playing on league night and in various law enforcement tourneys around the area.

As the days following deployment soon turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, and as the routine and isolation of deployment began to settle in, the soldiers found themselves looking for new ways to fill their free hours and lift their spirits at the same time.

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It was then that House, who hails from West Duluth and works as part of the full-time support staff at the National Guard Armory in Cloquet, decided to help bring a little bit of home to Kuwait. He said interest in playing hockey first began to spread through a group Facebook page, and it didn't take long for him to take the idea and run with it.

"We had a lot of guys who really wanted to play hockey," said House, "so I decided to step up and start a league."

The soldiers ordered hockey sticks online, and as soon as the sticks arrived in mid-December, House got the league started. It already has eight teams, with six to 10 players on each team (including one woman), with soldiers representing all units in the squadron.

"For a lot of guys, having grown up in Minnesota, hockey means a lot to them," said House, "and it's fun to still be able to stick handle, pass the puck and shoot at the goal."

The soldiers play their games minus skates, setting up their "rink" in the base's Armor of God shelter, where the soldiers work on vehicles, practice troop formations and do their pre-mission staging. House said they use sheets of plywood from the base's recycle center as the boards for the rink, and assembling the area for play is always a team effort, since some of it has to be broken down between games.

The teams play pickup games about twice a week, and Sunday nights are league nights. House said they are planning seven weeks of league play, followed by playoffs in March.

"Seeing everyone having a good time is rewarding," said House. "Nothing beats the workout you get from hockey. It's much more fun to play hockey than going for a run."

Most recently, House and his Crazy Troop team were selected to represent the 94th Cavalry in the Middle East version of "Hockey Day Minnesota" last Saturday. The team went 1-1 in the four-team tourney to place third overall.

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"Pretty much everyone here who is from Minnesota thinks hockey is a big deal," related House. "All of our favorite teams back home are doing well, from the Bulldogs to the Wild. It's fun just to bring a little bit of Minnesota here with us."

House said life in general is going well for Crazy Troop and the rest of the soldiers, adding that all are "pretty excited" that they are on the last leg of their deployment.

"If I could have fast-forwarded from the day we got here to this January, it would have seemed huge in the big picture of things as far as the excitement level."

Some of the soldiers from the unit were selected by lottery to return home to Minnesota over the Christmas holiday for a brief leave, and since then two other R & R leave groups have returned as well, with the latest one scheduled to arrive state-side around Feb. 4 or 5.

The group's year-long deployment is slated to be up sometime in May, and House said he can hardly wait to return to his wife and 10-month-old daughter.

Until then, the soldiers will continue to do their duty in serving their country in the Middle East on a day-to-day basis - and rise to the call as often as they can when they hear the words, "Play hockey!"

House said the soldiers have already been breaking a lot of hockey sticks and hinted they could use some replacements, along with gloves and goalie gear, since without it they've been forced to practice using only board cutouts as goals. If anyone has any hockey equipment to share with the troops - other than skates - they can contact House by email at: timothy.j.house@us.army.mil .

Spc. Mathew Schlueter contributed to this story.

Related Topics: CARLTON COUNTYCLOQUET
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