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New Name Means Similar Result on the Pond

03/10/2017, 8:45am MST
By Greg Bates

Connor Banks Shot a Guy has been one of the best in Eagle River

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.

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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.”

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