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Chicago Warriors win the National Championship!

By Ross Forman, 04/15/24, 7:45AM CDT


Chris Tran scored a backdoor goal assisted by Adam Lindeman on the first shift of the game Sunday, April 14, leading the Chicago Warriors to a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Warriors Gold in the championship of the inaugural Toyota USA Hockey Warrior National Championship, played at the Ice Vault Arena in Wayne, N.J.

The four-day tournament featured 34 teams from across the U.S., divided by competition level across six tiers.

“We had a team with a variety of talent levels for the tournament and we took everything we learned in practice and put it together at the end of the year to have a successful run in the tournament,” said Jim Otzko, Chicago’s captain and team president. The 55-year-old Hoffman Estates resident is in his 6th year with the Warriors and plays both offense and defense.

“Teamwork and camaraderie on and off the ice; I think that propelled us to the win.”

Tran scored at 14:31 and Chicago goalie Nick Zefeldt stopped all 15 shots he faced.

“It was a great matchup against Pittsburgh, a talented team which led to a tight matchup,” Otzko said. “We scored early and that gave us a bit of momentum. It was a back-and-forth game. Pittsburgh put up a great fight; we were fortunate to squeeze by with the win.”

Chicago attacked Pittsburgh with a 30-shot barrage and finished the tournament undefeated, outscoring its opponents 31-7, with two shutouts.

“We had a good vibe in the locker room. We were confident, but knew Pittsburgh is a tough team. We just wanted to hit them hard from the first shift – and we did,” Otzko said. “I don’t think we were expecting to score that quickly, but it was a big shot in the arm; it really gave us a boost that carried through the game.”

Otzko said Chicago had “great defensive play” in the final.

Otzko also gave Chicago some breathing room with a goal at 3:40 of the second period, assisted by Brad Costalunga.

“Brad got the puck in the corner, spun around the net, gave me a great pass and I was fortunate to put it in the back of the net,” Otzko said. “It was a great feeling scoring in a national championship, helping the team secure the win.”

Zefeldt was “spectacular” in goal with several timely saves, Otzko said. “Knowing that we had him in net provided us with a boast of confidence. He was ready for the championship game.”

The Chicago Warriors are disabled veterans with a wide variety of skill level on the bench – from players in their first-year skating to former Division I players. The players range in age from 24 to 64 and come together from across the city and suburbs. The Warriors call the Mt. Prospect Ice Arena and Fifth Third Arena their home – with practices every Saturday from September to March.

The Warriors are led by head coach Kevin McSweeney, who volunteers his time throughout the season at practices, games and team events. “He’s been an essential part of our team all season, helped prepare our team for Nationals and was a big part of our victory,” Otzko said.