“I remembered him and I took a picture with him, and it was really one of the coolest things that we did, even though he was in rough shape just having had spinal surgery,” Stammen said. “But it was kind of neat to see somebody that was familiar.”
Familiar faces weren’t many, but that wasn’t the point. Hendricks said he met a number of hockey fans and those who knew him from back home in Minnesota, Washington and Denver, where he played for the Colorado Avalanche. A few gave him a hard time about the NHL lockout, but mostly they just asked when hockey was coming back.
Hendricks, Detwiler and Stammen didn’t have the celebrity of Pickler, the humor of Shlesinger or the gravitas of Dempsey, but they spoke to troops and tried to boost morale and show their appreciation.
“We tried to paint it in a light where we had something in common with them as athletes, being on a team, sacrificing a little bit of our time for what we do,” Stammen said. “Obviously, we couldn’t come to grips with it being exactly how they were, but we did our best.”
Finding a way to relate is hard in some ways and easy in others. Professional athletes admittedly have easier jobs, but Detwiler also observed that so many stationed overseas were in their early-to-mid 20s like him and Stammen.
Hendricks tried to reach out and give heartfelt speeches wherever the tour went, from the U.S.S. John C. Stennis off the coast of Bahrain, to U.S. Navy Central Command, the Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Stuttgart and Landstuhl, Germany.
“I talked about the teamwork … Obviously it goes beyond the players, it goes on to the trainers and the guys that sharpen your skates and take care of your laundry. Without those guys, the team wouldn’t work,” Hendricks said. “And I wanted to make that hit home with the troops because if you’re digging holes in the dirt or you’re helping build places to live and things like that on the bases, the other people out there doing other types of jobs aren’t going to be able to succeed without them.”
“We all just kind of sat there and said, ‘We just made a difference in the U.S. military,” Detwiler said. “It’s just kind of surreal to know that you made a difference somehow. That’s something I never really pictured myself doing, making a difference like that.”
• Staff writer Amanda Comak contributed to this report.
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