Tucson, Arizona, seemed like a strange place to hold a hockey tournament. But in March 1986 there I was, ready to step on the widest sheet of ice in the desert. It almost didn’t happen. Our flight was delayed in Chicago, leaving us free to explore the airport bars for six hours. Relegated to the smoking section—a questionable call for a group of athletes—we were flying long before our plane left the ground. Maybe it was the smoke, or perhaps the proximity to the toilet, or just the fact that we were traveling somewhere other than a small town in upstate New York named after an Indian tribe. Whatever the reason, it started—slowly at first, until our call-and-response dirge gained enough momentum to disturb even our coach and his assistants plotting pregame strategies way up near first class:

Red skies at night (red skies at night)
Wo oh (wo oh)
Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Red skies at night (red skies at night)
Wo oh (wo oh)
Wo oh oh oh oh oh oh oh

Repeat chorus ad infinitum.

“Red Skies” was a hit from the British New Wave act The Fixx. Typical ‘80s fare, the four-word mantra (“wo-oh”s don’t count) got in your brain and refused to budge until you either passed out or found a Madonna tune on the radio. We mumbled through the verses, working our way back to the chorus. Once there, we’d rip into it with the force of an Irish gale, blowing on and on until the stewardesses politely—and, later, not so politely—asked us to stop.

We should have taken warning. Three consecutive losses ended our season among the cactus, thirsty rocks, and thousands of years of Mesoamerican history. The tradeoff being extra time spent chilling at the hotel pool, sampling tequila purchased over the border in Nogales, or looking for a saguaro used in Wacky Races like a U2 fan searching for that Joshua tree.

In this heat, the uncomfortable brew of over 100 pasty white skins booked at the same hotel led to gruff exchanges and glares at the buffet line. A tacit cease-fire prevailed as long as there was hockey. But today was different. The tournament was over and we decided to sacrifice our per diem (about 10 bucks a head) for one last fiesta. Word got around. Rival members, who’d been as frosty as their hometowns, pitched in and offered the services of their rented van.

The alcohol dissolved any lingering rivalries and soon we were behaving like typical Temperate Zone idiots at the hotel pool: ungraceful springboard diving, cannonball contests, horseplay, trying to drink underwater.

Then the battle cry began:

“Red skies at night!” A defenseman, who with the advent of Mr. Incredible at last has a separated-at-birth partner, lobbed a beer like a hand grenade over enemy lines. In this case, the opposite end of the pool, some 20 yards away.

“Red skies at night” came the reply, and with it a return salvo.

“Wo ho.”

“Wo ho.”

It was going to be a long afternoon. I left the beer boys in search of more organic desert pleasures with a Connecticut rich kid who also had the prescience to bring along his rollerblades: three wheels affixed to an old pair of CCM Tacks.

We returned to a sour darkness. Like bears lacking the sense to hibernate, a dozen or so revelers stumbled about the hotel grounds, the pool area, and rooms strewn with mildewed hockey equipment and promotional clothing, poking their noses into cans that held nothing but trouble. All week, female contact had been limited to the team statisticians, now shacked up or safely tucked in bed, and a middle-aged nurse from the phys-ed department. Frustration levels were as high as the male-female ratio.

Our left wing, a pugilist with a French Canadian surname who preferred that sarcasm be paid for with teeth, started on a couple of North Dakota dudes. To paraphrase another Fixx song, one thing led to another. From my poolside vantage point, the progression inside the room was obvious. Words turned to venom that begot clenched fists and an empty bottle. The Scandinavians bled bright red through blond hair. Someone threw a chair. It missed, crashing through the sliding glass door instead. A rival teammate followed, glass stuck to his forearms. The alarm sounded and men from around the country rushed to protect their brethren and dish out some punishment. The hotel manager was powerless to stop the ensuing brawl. Sirens split the air.

I ran across the pool patio toward the front of the hotel. Although innocent, I was born with a guilty conscience and I sweat bullets going through customs armed with nothing more dangerous than a newsstand Playboy. A cop storming through the bushes cut me off. I twisted my arm away in a lame escape attempt, but he collared me and I found myself face down. The smell of beer and chlorine burnt my nose, which was now starting to bleed. Cool metal pushed against the back of my skull.

“You think you can just run away, you’ve got it wrong, fella.”

The cop searched my pockets with one hand still on his gun.

I was omniscient, and none of this was happening: the illuminated blue pool levitating a few inches from my face; the dissonant sirens; the thwack of flesh-connecting fists; angry, barking testosterone; screams and curses and red lights gleefully dancing on stucco walls.

“Who is responsible for this?” yelled a voice above the madness.

Even with a gun at my head I knew it was The Fixx. We had taken their song in vain, and our drunken séance had somehow conjured its heretical alter ego. Though I was far from any substantial body of water, my fishing-enthusiast uncle’s words came to me: “Red skies at night, sailor’s delight; red skies at morning, sailor’s warning.” I tried to recall the sunset I had just witnessed but saw only an emptiness as vast as the distance between the cop’s gun and the hair standing on the back of my neck. That song just wouldn’t go away.

“Red …”

“Skies …”

“At …”

“Night …”

I closed my eyes and waited for the dawn.