MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif.- -- Several players deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Others are temporarily assigned to different Marine Corps bases. One is home on emergency leave. And that leaves three.
Three Marines in a passenger van designed to hold at least 10. Three Marines prepared to drive two hours one way to play a game that requires a minimum of at least four skaters on the rink. Three lone skaters to represent last season's champions.
The Chiefs are used to facing challenges when they play, but when they headed out to the Wayne Gretzky Roller Hockey Center in Upland, Calif., they were not sure if they would even have enough players to skate that night.
"No one is left," said Mike Olszewski, the unofficial captain for the night. "Ronn is at Pendleton, Gaffstar had to fly home and everyone else is [deployed]."
In an effort to gather enough players for that night's game, Olszewski recruited Clint Hinkle a friend who has some skating experience, although none of it recent.
"It's been a while since I've been on skates," said Hinkle. "I told him I would come out and see what I could do for the team because they are short on players."
Steve Doherty, a newcomer to the team, laughs about how he came to play for the Chiefs.
"Someone said, 'Hey gunny, I heard something about a base team needing skaters!' and the next thing I knew, I was wearing a Chiefs Jersey," chuckled Doherty as he joined Hinkle and Olszewski in the van on the way to the game.
A fourth player, Robert Rodriguez, who showed up for his second consecutive week as a member of the team, met up with the players at the rink.
"My grandparents live close, and I was at their house so I just met the team here," said Rodriguez. "I was playing at the rink on base, and they said if I showed up I might be able to play. I showed up last week, and here I am again tonight."
With the regular training and deployment schedules aboard the Combat Center, keeping a full team together has been hard for the Chiefs, even with sponsorship from Marine Corps Community Services Sports here. The few and faithful players make the two-hour trek to the rink for Thursday night games as often as they can, and their dedication does not go unnoticed.
"I try to do what I can to help them," said Chris Noriega, rink manager and hockey director. "Not only do they drive a long way to play every week, but these guys put their lives on the line for us out there. These guys are not just a hockey team. They are Marines!"
With the realization that the skates Hinkle borrowed were not the right size, the team's chance to play was uncertain again and they scrambled to find another player
Noriega made a few phone calls while the team scoured the rink looking for someone willing to skate.
"No matter how many players they have, or don't have, they always show up," observed Noriega on his way to tell the team he found someone to play for them. "They are the most dedicated team in this league, they are totally gung-ho."
Jim Mikelson, a Navy veteran, found out about the team at their Web site, http://www.eteamz.com/USMChockey.
"I ran into them here shortly after checking out their Web site," said Mikelson who lives nearby in Laverne. "These guys are amazing, I am impressed with their level of commitment. They asked me to skate with them tonight and I was glad to."
Despite the final score of 3-7, the Chiefs did not let the loss get them down.
"Gaff and Ronn will be back next week," said Olszewski, who scored two of the three goals Thursday night. "We'll get back on track."
Referee Danny Aramas said the Chiefs are great guys on and off of the rink.
"They are the hardest hustling guys in the league," said Aramas. "They are hurting right now because their players are gone."
Taking a moment to carefully arrange his words, he finished the thought with pride in his voice.
"We know where they are, the ones that are not here tonight, and that makes us respect these guys even more," he finished softly.
The Chiefs are always looking for players of any skill level. If you are interested in playing, call Mike Gaff at 799-7497 or Mike Olszewski at 508-6825.