Going The Distance

So how far would you go to see your son play for the national championship? For senior defenseman Skylar Kangas, his parents are typical of the efforts made by the parents and friends travel to see St. Thomas compete in this weekend’s D-III Frozen Four.

Due to the high price of airline tickets that would have to have been purchased on short notice, many Tommie fans were burning up the phone lines and internet sites trying to find a ticket somewhere near Middlebury, Vt. for a price less than $1,400. While a number of people found flights into Manchester, N.H. or Albany, N.Y. that still necessitated a two to three hour drive after landing, the Kangas’ family fired up the old family car and headed out of Hibbing, Minn. to the mountains of [nl]Vermont. Twenty-five hours and 1579 miles later, they arrived to see their senior son play in the biggest game of his career.

“We have between 50 and 75 people here,” said Hibbing, Minn. native Oren Bottoms proudly. “Nearly all of the parents made it out here to see this team go for the championship and there are lots of other friends and siblings who made the trip too.” Oren, a high school hockey coach in Hibbing, tried to describe the many family travel odysseys encountered by the St. Thomas supporters only to be interrupted by the first goal of the semifinals scored by his son John on a Tommie power play in the first period.

Terry Edwards, father of sophomore defenseman Andrew Edwards said, “This is real exciting for us. We don’t know much about the other teams here but we know we can play. We went through some real tough teams to get here and we hope we can win two more games and send the seniors out with a title.”

Jennifer Panchenko, mother of 21 year-old freshman forward Andy Panchenko proudly noted, “This is a hard working team. A lot of these kids gave up D-I opportunities to stay home. We knew that this team was a solid team and after getting by St John’s twice and St. Norbert we all wanted to make the trip and see this team have a chance to win it all.”

Even employers of players’ friends and family have gotten into the act in supporting the travel time and expenses for loyal Tommie fans. Unable to find a decent airfare, John Bottoms’ older brother tried every imaginable way to get a plane east without success and based on a shortage of cash, it looked like he would miss his brother’s appearance in the NCAA’s. His boss at a financial planning company in Hibbing heard about his employee’s plight and walked in with his frequent flier account information and gave him 50,000 frequent flier miles so he could see his brother play.

Perhaps the ultimate story of sacrifice and perseverance can be found in Tom and Sue Krmpotich, parents of junior forward, Dan Krmpotich. Recently, Tom was fortunate enough to be perfect match for his soul mate, wife Sue, who was in need of a kidney transplant. The transplant was successful as were the recoveries for the husband and wife. However, due to time and money, they were going to push the limits and drive to see the Frozen Four in Vermont.

“It’s really a great story,” said fellow team parent Randy Wilcox. “The CFO at St. Jude Medical thought it was just crazy that they were even thinking about driving based on everything they had been through physically. He pulled out his frequent flier card and provided tickets for anyone in the family that wanted to go. It’s amazing the way people have responded and supported the team and everyone associated with it.”

So far, it appears the trip has been a worthwhile one but for the small but vocal group of Tommie supporters it can only get better if the Tommies go the distance.