After years and years of futility, the guys from Mandy Branhattans had a reason to celebrate this year.
This past February, the team advanced to the playoffs for the first time in their nine years of playing in the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin. Mandy Branhattans fell just a couple goals short of winning the Bronze 21+ Division, placing runner-up to KANE88 by a 2-1 score in the championship game.
The day leading up to the championship, the guys were thrilled to be one of four teams left out of the 24 in the division with a shot to win the title.
“It’s fun,” Mandy Branhattans team member Rob Alward said. “It’s nice to actually play on Saturday afternoon.”
Alward has been a part of eight of the nine tournaments his team has played in. He knows all too well the feeling of not playing on Saturday afternoon in the semifinals and the next day in the finals.
With a couple core members unable to make the trip to Northern Wisconsin this year, the team had to find some replacements to fill the roster. In stepped Jay Wolf. Maybe he was one of the good luck charms to help Mandy Branhattans get into the playoffs.
“I think everybody’s just kind of found their position and it’s worked well,” Wolf said. “I’ve been back in the net most of the time and we’ve got guys who can score. It’s going well; it’s flowing well. Everybody’s clicking.”
The guys might have surprised themselves by how well they did in the tournament.
“It wasn’t the intentions to win, but we’ve played well and we’ve done well, so you want to keep playing well,” Wolf said. “Every game we go out and we’re like, ‘Oh, we’ll just play. We’ll just have a good time.’ Then the competitiveness comes back and you want to win.”
This marked the last year the team will play in the Bronze 21+ Division. In 2018, the guys, who range in age from 29-37, plan to compete in Bronze 30+.
Mandy Branhattans is a group of guys who either played hockey together in high school, are relatives via marriage or simply just friends. The team members now live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area and around Madison, Wisconsin.
Alward grew up in Eagle River and played at the local high school, Northland Pines. He loves coming back to the area every year.
“We grew up here,” said the 33-year-old Alward. “It’s a good excuse to see mom and dad and play some hockey.”
Wolf, who was raised in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, about two hours south of Eagle River, had never experienced playing in the pond hockey tournament. But when he found out there was an opening this year, he wasn’t going to say no.
“They have told me about it for a number of years and they’ve just always been full because people just have such a good time and that they haven’t had a spot,” Wolf said. “They were short this year, so they called me and asked if wanted to play. I figured I’d give it a shot.”
Wolf, 31, had heard stories from the guys about what to expect playing on the pond, but he truly couldn’t imagine what the experience would be like.
“It’s certainly a different way of playing hockey,” Wolf said. “There’s no finesse passing. You can’t make moves on people. It’s a very fundamental way of playing. It’s awesome, all the people and the weather’s beautiful.”
Wolf is sure glad he made the trip to Eagle River to have a good time with the boys.
“It’s like college again, you hang out and you’re here to play hockey and have some fun,” Wolf said. “There’s nothing else to worry about, you leave it all at home and come and play.”
Mandy Branhattans have a core group of three players who have played at the pond tournament either eight or nine years. Alward said it’s important for the team to keep a few players who return every year.
“That’s the best part about it is having the same group,” Alward said. “Some of us, this is the only time of the year we see each other. Keep the core group together, keep coming up. That’s what it’s all about.”
Wolf wants to come back and play next year, but if a couple of the core players return, he might be left in the cold. Remember though, he might have been their good luck charm on the road to the championship game.
“I think I’ll make the cut,” Wolf said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.