For just over 365 days, a bitter defeat ate at the Wig Splitters.
But one year after losing in the finals of the Novice Division, the squad that hails from the south side of Chicago took home a championship in the 12th annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
The Wig Splitters lost by one goal in the title game in 2016 and weren’t going to let that happen this year. The guys eked out a 4-3 victory over Nice Dekes Let’s Puck on Feb. 12.
The team has had a lot of success in its four seasons playing in Novice. On the second day of the tournament, captain Ron Gorz said his team would move up a division to Bronze 21+ if it happened to win the Novice title.
“Hopefully we can steamroll through that and keep working up the ranks,” Gorz said.
The Wig Splitters, which got their name from an old drag racing term, had a phenomenal run in this year’s tournament, throttling their opponents 61-14 in five games. In the three pool play contests, they were plus-41 goals, 49-8.
The guys on the Wig Splitters spend most of their time during the hockey season playing the South Suburban Adult Hockey League around Chicago. They skate out of Southwest Ice Arena and Oakton Ice Arena.
The team has been around for seven years, and in each of the last four they’ve made the trip to Eagle River to compete on the pond. It’s a competitive group of guys who range in age from 24-38.
“It’s just so much fun,” said Gorz, 38. “The brotherhood of all the different teams. We’re here to win. We have fun, we party, but we’re responsible. We’re here to win, it’s not a game.”
One big reason the Wig Splitters keep coming back annually is to have a weekend away with the guys.
“It’s great to spend time with your boys and this atmosphere is crazy, it’s so much fun,” said third-year team member Mike Castro, who travels from Louisville, Kentucky to play in the tournament. “You meet different teams, you have a great time with them. It’s just always fun.”
Talking with the guys, the conversation always turns to winning. It’s a good thing they had a trophy to lug home this year.
Over the years, the Wig Splitters have found what works on the pond, which is a totally different game than playing at an indoor rink.
“We have a lot of talent here,” Gorz said. “We play like a two high and one low and then I skate back kind of as the goalie/defenseman by myself.”
Said the 25-year-old Castro: “You can’t stand still. Sometimes you can get away with that in five-on-five and you can kind of glide around. Here you do that, you’re dead. You’ve got to keep moving and get yourself into that open passing lane.”
Playing in the national championships for a few years, the Wig Splitters have built some rivalries with teams, namely Laughing Skulls.
“We like to kick their butts,” Gorz said. “We beat them twice last year. They’re from Maryland, so they’ve got a long haul home.”
When the schedule is released prior to the first day of the tournament, the Wig Splitters always check it out to see if they will square off against Laughing Skulls.
“We’re pretty good friends with them now,” Castro said. “They stay at the same hotel as us every year and we get to hang out with them when we’re not playing. Every time we play them it’s a good game and it’s always competitive.”
Still relatively young, the Wig Splitters players have their sights set on playing in the pond hockey championships for many years to come.
“We’ll be there every year until we’re dead, hopefully,” Gorz said. “We see there’s an over 50 [division], so we’ve got a long way to go.”
“We won’t miss that for the world,” added Castro. “As long as [USA Hockey] keeps hosting this, we’ll keep coming.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.
But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.
While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.
Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.
The beauty of hockey
A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.
“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."
That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.
“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”
Other workouts don’t measure up
Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.
“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”
Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.
“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”
Never too late to start
That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.
Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.
“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”
Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.
“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”