FORT IRWIN • The temperature in the desert may have suddenly dropped about 10 degrees, but enough for ice hockey?
Still, that didn't stop Anaheim Ducks forwards Bobby Ryan and George Parros from visiting Fort Irwin on Friday afternoon.
The visit was proposed by Fort Irwin's Morale, Welfare and Recreation department to the Ducks, and Ryan and Parros both volunteered to make the trip. Being American-born players, both said it was an significant trek. Parros has a cousin in the military, and his father served in the Vietnam War.
"For us both being Americans, it's nice to come out," Ryan said. "They are our troops obviously. The chance to interact with them has been incredible."
It was welcomed by the soldiers as well. Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman visited Fort Irwin earlier this year. Seeing and interacting with professional athletes is a morale boost, several soldiers said.
"It's awesome," said Paul Laughlin, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment commander. "Not many people make the drive. We'd love to see more professional athletes, especially those on teams because what we do as a business is all about teams."
The players visited the facilities, toured the Box — the desert training area with simulation Iraqi villages — and saw a basic day in the life of a solider. While in the Box, they witnessed a combat simulation.
"We got to see them run through a real war simulation where guys are getting hurt and all that kind of stuff," Ryan said. "It's kind of an eye-opener because we got see what it's really like. To meet the guys and interact with them, it's been great."
Ryan and Parros finished off their day signing autographs and taking photos for the more than 100 soldiers lined up at the Shock Wave, a food and entertainment location on base.
Some professed to know little about hockey. Sgt. John Makuer said all he knew was the fact that the sport was played on ice eliminated him from competing.
However, the presence of professional hockey players also brought out several diehards.
Sgt. Eric Scott wore his Chris Pronger Ducks jersey and said normally those around him brush him off once he starts talking hockey. Today was his day, he said.
"It's amazing," Scott said. "They are a lot bigger in person than they look on TV, I'll tell you that. I'm the big guy on my team, and when they stood up I'm the midget."
Connie Mullins, whose husband is in the Army, was born in Ontario, Canada and wore a shirt that read "I Love Hockey Players."
"I was so excited," Mullins said. "We don't get a whole lot of hockey out here. It's not in the culture here. I just moved here a year ago, and we don't even get hockey on TV at home.
The players and Fort Irwin exchanged gifts before they headed back to Anaheim. Parros and Ryan signed a jersey that will be displayed at the 21st Lane Lounge bowling alley, and Laughlin presented the players with a plaque and small duffle bags.
So what about a return to Fort Irwin with a little more hardware?
On a day in which Penguins captain Sidney Crosby brought the Stanley Cup to a naval base in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, Parros and Ryan wouldn't commit to a similar visit at Fort Irwin if the Ducks claim the Cup again, but admitted it would be cool idea if they can help claim the franchise's second title.
"We'll see," said Parros, who was a member of the 2007 Ducks squad that won the Cup. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I'd hate to jinx it."
"I think that'd be a great thing," Ryan said. "I don't think many of them have seen the Cup or been in its presence. I think it'd be great for us to bring it out and hang with the guys."
Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4124 or