Don’t let the unusual name fool you — the players on Connor Banks Shot a Guy are pretty serious when it comes to pond hockey.
The team — sporting its new name this year — has competed six years in the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and has its routine down pat.
“We have bed times,” team captain Gary Cwik said.
Chris Chojnowski is the one who tries to keep his teammates in line. He usually sets a midnight curfew, depending on what time the team’s morning game starts. But the 26- to 34-year-olds aren’t real responsive to the set bed times, especially while on vacation from work.
“We like to push it,” Cwik said. “Once he goes to bed, we’ll go until 1, 1:30.”
What the guys are doing must be working, because in the last six years, they’ve won two championships and finished as runners-up twice.
“We’re about 55 percent business, 45 percent fun,” said Chojnowski, who is referred to by teammates as “Dad” at 33 years old. “When you’re winning and keep on playing, when you get out there for the playoff games — it starts getting a little more quiet and little bit more, I don’t want to say intimate. But you definitely get to see the ice a little bit more, get to watch the other teams. It’s too much fun.”
The guys from Connor Banks Shot a Guy — a reference to the cult hockey film “Mystery, Alaska” — took home the Bronze 21+ Division title twice, and in 2016 moved up to Intermediate 21+. The team finished runner-up last year.
“We wanted a little more challenge,” said Chojnowski, who has played in the pond hockey championships for eight years. “It’s not a big change, but it’s refreshing to step up.”
Bringing home the championship cup and banner has been a major point of pride for the guys on the team.
“It was great, nothing beats it,” Chojnowski said. “Especially with the trophies, a few of us have gotten married through the years, so those were all wonderful centerpieces at the weddings.”
Unfortunately, Connor Banks Shot a Guy came up just one win shy of a title again in 2017. The team advanced to the championship of Intermediate 21+ but fell 7-4 to Sharp Dressed Men.
The team, which hails from Chicago and surrounding suburbs, has one goal in mind every year when it makes the 5 ½-hour drive to northern Wisconsin.
“We like to joke around and despite the fact that we’re hanging out, having beers, this is a business trip,” Cwik said. “It’s a business trip.”
“We have a good time,” Chojnowski said. “After the second game, we just grab our cases of Labatt and start watching the other games and hang out. Look around here, this is just unbelievable. All the new guys we brought up, they’re instantly hooked.”
Most of the guys on the team are pond hockey veterans, though. Five of the seven players have played all six years with the team and know how to win outdoors.
“Some of us had come up beforehand, but had obviously told us about it and let us know about the camaraderie, playing outdoors and it’s gotten bigger and bigger every year,” Cwik said. “It’s got to a point where we just love it. It’s something we look forward to, like an annual friends’ trip kind of thing.”
Connor Banks Shot a Guy knows exactly what to expect on the ice each year. The team plays the same goalie, two defensemen and two shifts of two wingers. All the guys compete together in an adult league around Chicago, so the players know one another’s games quite well.
“We have nice balance and everybody working together as well,” Cwik said.
Some of the guys played together in high school and others got into the circle of friends through playing adult league hockey over the years.
“We kind of cherry pick who we like most,” Cwik joked. “That’s the group of seven that we bring up.”
It’s a group that enjoys traveling to Eagle River every year for a three- to four-day weekend away with friends who are fellow hockey nuts.
“We can’t think of anything else to do in February,” Chojnowski said. “As soon as the tournament ends, we’re ready to book — start looking at the cabins and looking for the new year coming up.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.