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Warm-weather players adapt

TIMMINS - Hockey players born and raised in the Timmins area are quite familiar with bone-chilling temperatures and mountains of snow.

They have been dressing warm, slinging their hockey bags over their shoulders and hopping into their mom’s minivan or their dad’s truck since they were knee high to grasshoppers.

After a lifetime of making the trek to their local arena, they hardly notice when the thermometer dips into the -30 C range — without factoring in the windchill.

The climate can be a bit of a shock, however, for players not used to winter in Northeastern Ontario.

Take Henry Berger, of the Cochrane Crunch, for example.

Berger hails from Claremont, Calif., not your typical hockey hotbed.

“I haven’t been warm once since I got here,” he said following a game against the visiting Blind River Beavers at the Tim Horton Event Centre back on Jan. 17.

“It is tough, but my billets are good at giving me warm clothes, so that’s nice.”

As you might expect, temperatures in Claremont are more than a few degrees warmer than Cochrane on your typical February day.

The average high in February is 21 C, while the average low is 6 C. Notice there is no minus sign in front of either of those numbers.

Cochrane, on the other hand, boasts an average high of -7.9 C and an average low of -21 C.

Things are even more extreme if you compare the record highs — Claremont, 30 C, Cochrane, 6.7 C — and record lows — Claremont, 2 C, Cochrane, -39.6 C — of the two communities.

Even Abitibi Eskimos defenceman Joe Olson, one of the players on the team who hails from Maple Ridge, B.C., has found things a little colder than he was used to back home.

“My parents told me to bring some boots and that it would be pretty cold, but since I have been here my toes have been numb,” he said following a game against the Beavers at the Jus Jordan Arena on Jan. 17.

“I think they have been numb for the past week.”

The climate change between Maple Ridge and Iroquois Falls is not quite as extreme as the difference between Claremont and Cochrane.

The normal high in Maple Ridge in February is 9 C, while the low is -1 C. The record high is 19 C and the record low is an almost-Northeastern-Ontario-like -20 C.

“The weather is definitely different, but I like it here.

“It is a nice small-town community and everybody rallies around the team.

“The guys are great here, the room is good and it has been a lot of fun so far.

“It is nice to come into an environment like that, where the guys really take you in.”

The support the fans of the Crunch have shown to Berger and his teammates has helped to warm his heart, as well.

“The community we have here is not something you would experience in southern California in some of the big cities,” he said.

“It is nice to see everyone so supportive of the team.”

The sunny, warm weather of southern California is not necessarily conducive to getting players in a hockey playing frame of mind.

“There is no pond hockey in Cali,” Berger said.

“Most guys spend their days surfing, while around here everyone just wants to go play some hockey.

“It is cool that everyone loves hockey. It is honestly life changing because it is such a different environment.”

Despite growing up in a surfing environment, Berger got an early start to his hockey career.

“My dad is from Michigan and his whole family was always into hockey,” he said.

“He got me playing and I played a lot of roller hockey. Once you start playing, you really can’t stop.”

When Berger isn’t playing hockey, he likes to keep busy with other sports.

“I play handball with my dad and the boys,” he said.

“It is like my cross-training sport. I play all summer. I usually hit the gym a lot, too, and go to the beach with the guys.”

Berger might have trouble finding a beach to hit in Cochrane in February, but there will be some open water on Lake Commando this weekend for the annual polar bear dip associated with the Cochrane Winter Carnival.