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.