For the Love of Ice: Trading Cayman Islands’ Breezes for a Good Game of Hockey

On a recent Saturday morning at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, the unrelenting cold of the north rink seems miles away from the warm, off-shore breezes of the Cayman Islands — about 520 nautical miles, actually. But the four members of the hockey team Breakaway are doing their best to be ambassadors of the tropical paradise — all for the love of ice.
The team practices at Tampa Bay Skating Academy.
From left to right, Bill Messer, Norm Klein,
Joe Stasiuk, and Tim Derksen.

“Today the ice here was perfect,” Norm Klein says.  
Klein and members Bill Messer, Joe Stasiuk and Tim Derksen are happy to train in the “more northern climes” of Tampa Bay as they prepare for the 12th annual World Pond Hockey Championships being held in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, Canada, Feb. 7 – 10, 2013. 
Participating in the international event, which focuses more on camaraderie and trading stories rather than on winning at all costs, is a tradition with the group since they started nine years ago. 
The team of Canadian expatriates will join about 120 other teams from around the world to play four-on-four, without goalies, outdoors on frozen bodies of water. 
Bill Messer
“That’s how you learn to play hockey, on a lake, as a little kid,” Messer says. 
But the Cayman Islands, where all four have lived for many years, doesn’t have frozen lakes—or even an ice rink. It’s located in the western Caribbean Sea. So each year they fly up for several weekends during the months prior to February to practice at the ice rink in Oldsmar. 

“We play here the most because they give us the best ice times,” Klein says.

On this day, the four are playing two-on-two on the north rink. The puck is hard to follow but it’s not too long before Stasiuk winds up for a slap shot. The puck hits Messer’s thigh and flies into the net. 

“That’s how Bill gets all his goals,” Derksen jokes. 

Tim Derksen
Derksen, who’s in his early 40s, and the other two seem to enjoy taking shots at Messer, but it’s all in good fun. They know the Cayman Breakaway Hockey Club wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the team’s brainchild. 
After all, it was Messer, 50, who came up with the idea after reading about the World Pond event in the Wall Street Journal. He pitched it to the others at a sports bar one night. 
“I thought he was nuts,” Stasiuk, 53, says. “I hadn’t played in eight years. But the more beer, the better the idea became.”
“By the end of the night, Bill was a genius,” Klein, 49, adds. 
Norm Klein
All four started playing hockey at a very young age. They had continued playing into adulthood, but had then hung up their skates. Messer, the team captain, and Klein are now attorneys. Derksen is an accountant; Stasiuk, an engineer. 
Even though team Breakaway competes against hockey players younger and better than they are – some who are retired National Hockey League players – the team holds its own. 
Joe Stasiuk
“Last year, we were one goal away from making playoffs,” Stasiuk says. “We made the playoffs once and we’d like to do it again.”
Only the top 32 teams make the playoffs. 
The Breakaway team is sponsored by Cayman Airlines and the Cayman Islands Tourism Department. When they visit Oldsmar and aren’t on the ice, they make sure to take in the local sights and restaurants. Bern’s Steak House, Mise en Place, Lee Roy Selmon’s and Jack Willie’s are just some of their favorite hot spots.

“We do our best to stimulate the economy,” Derksen says, smiling.

But for now, on this Saturday morning, miles away from home, it’s all about hockey…and the love of ice.