Former Air Force teammates fly in from around the country for Chad Demers benefit hockey tournament
GRAFTON -- The 2015 Air Force men's hockey senior class has always been particularly tight.
Upon their graduation, they spread across the country, but have made an effort to get back together as much as possible. They met up in Las Vegas one summer. They met up in Nashville another summer.
So, perhaps what happened in Grafton last weekend isn't particularly surprising.
The town held a benefit for one of those players. Chad Demers, who clinched a state championship for Grafton-Park River by scoring a triple overtime goal in high school, captained the Fargo Force in junior hockey and scored more than 100 career points at Air Force, is battling brain cancer.
His friends started the Demmy Dangles Cancer hockey tournament last year to raise money for Demers and his family.
Nearly his entire Air Force senior class traveled from around the country to be there.
His linemates, Cole Gunner and Scott Holm, flew in from Boston. Defenseman Dan Weissenhofer flew in from South Bend, Ind. Defenseman Mike McDonald flew in from Los Angeles.
Forward Jason Fabian, who was in the class before Demers, flew in from Florida. Goalie Paul Moberg flew in from Cheyenne, Wyo. Forward Jacques Lamoureux came from Colorado.
"That always means a lot, just because they all live in different parts of the country, all over the U.S.," Demers said. "Just to make an effort to come up for the tournament, spend time here. . . I know it's a lot of time for travel, money spent to be here and time to take. But we always have a blast. They're always happy to do it. It's something we look forward to."
Weissenhofer, who drove from South Bend to Chicago, flew to Minneapolis and drove to Grafton, said he wouldn't miss it. Weissenhofer and Demers were teammates in Fargo for two years, at Air Force for four years and were stationed together in Los Angeles after graduation for three years.
They originally met at Fargo's tryout camp more than a decade ago.
"I slashed him across the wrists, he yelled at me and we've been friends ever since," Weissenhofer said. "Chad is one of my best friends and one of my greatest teammates. Anything we can do to get the boys together, support him, play some hockey and have some fun, I'm always going to jump at that opportunity."
Demers is fighting Grade 4 Glioblastoma, the same brain cancer that Sen. John McCain battled. Doctors originally told Demers in September 2018 that he probably had less than two years to live, but after receiving a pathology report back from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., they found that Demers has a rare IDH mutation, which generally extends lifespans in Glioblastoma patients.
Demers said Glioblastoma is not curable, but it is treatable.
The day before the tournament started, he had a positive check-up at Mayo Clinic.
In the meantime, Demers hasn't slowed down. He has been elevated to a full-time assistant coaching position with the Fargo Force, who won the 2018 United States Hockey League's Clark Cup and currently sit in second place in the Western Conference.
Cancer hasn't kept him off the ice, either.
Demers played in the seven-team tournament over the weekend.
Each team was assigned a captain and the squads were drafted the night before the tournament started.
That meant Chad ended up on opposite teams as some people he's used to having on his side. In the championship game, Chad played against his younger brother, Joey, his old Air Force linemate, Gunner, his current Force head coach, Pierre-Paul Lamoureux, and the player that set him up for his state-title winning high school goal, Alex Gaustad.
Chad's team lost 4-3 in the final. The final two minutes of the game, Chad's team pulled its goalie, and although it was a fun event, the intensity ratcheted up like an old Division I game.
"It's so much fun," Weissenhofer said. "It's the greatest time. The last time I played hockey was this tournament last year. Before that, it was at the Academy. The only time I get on the ice is if Chad convinces me to."
That's what a close group of college teammates can do.
"We were a pretty tight class," Holm said. "We spent pretty much every day for four years together. We got to know everybody super well. We spent a lot of time and did a lot of fun things together.
"Playing with Chad in college, getting to know what type of person he is, he's a great guy. He'd do anything for us. So, the least we can do is come up here, support him and play hockey. It's always fun to get out there."