When the Cavaliers raised the Cup to celebrate their Advanced Division championship in the Santa Barbara Adult Ice Hockey League, there was a special feeling that accompanied the joy of winning the inaugural title at the Ice in Paradise facility in Goleta.
For the team’s core group of players, capturing the championship on real “home ice” was a dream-come-true moment for them and their families.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that a dream can come true,” team captain Erik Norton said. “In life, you always remember what you wanted when you were a kid. Our core group of players always wanted to play ice hockey and in order to do that we needed an ice rink.
"After a long wait, we finally got it. There are few words that can be said to describe the feeling of having a lifelong dream actualize.
“I can say that one of our strongest feelings is gratitude,” he added. “The appreciation for everyone involved on the donor wall, especially people like Jack Norqual, Ed Snider, Mark Linehan, and Kim Schizas.
"A profound gratitude for the willingness of Mark Linehan and Kim Schizas to not only donate the land, but to have the patience and wait as long as they did, is something that we are thankful for every time we step on the ice.”
Schizas is the mother of Cavaliers player Chris Wood, who, with Norton, Mike Wood, Steven Polchinski, Jeremy McMillin and Tyler Guthrie, make up the core group.
Schizas and the other parents got their kids playing roller hockey. The kids watched their fathers compete in the local roller hockey league, many of them playing for a team called the Cavaliers.
The offspring followed in their dads’ skate marks and later turned to ice hockey. With no rink in town, they traveled to facilities in Oxnard, Simi Valley and Valencia to play in various leagues.
Years later, the core group went before the Goleta City Council and asked to make their dream come true and build an ice rink.
“We were some of the first children to go before the board to show them that kids wanted to play ice hockey here in Santa Barbara,” said Norton. “Some 20 years later, our dream came true with the creation of Ice in Paradise. With that dream came an opportunity to be the first Division 1 team to claim the ‘Ice in Paradise Adult Hockey League Champions’ trophy.”
The Cavaliers swept UCSB in a best-of-three championship series.
They won a wild first game, 11-10, scoring the game-winning goal on a power play in the last two seconds of regulation. Sean Hrboka scored the game-winner on a backhanded shot off an assist from Norton.
They carried the momentum of that win into the second game, scoring in the first 11 seconds en route to an 8-2 title-clinching victory. The Cavaliers swept the SB Kings in the first round of the playoffs.
Norton said the UCSB team included high-level players Kyle De Laurell and Josh Frider, each of whom played four years of NCAA Division 1 hockey for the Air Force Academy. They are currently based at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“They are dynamic offensive weapons and it took a full team defensive effort — as well as lots of scoring in game 1 — in order to compete against them. It was an honor to play against players of this quality and background,” he said.
The Cavaliers roster has plenty of quality players, too. Norton said the team is comprised of three main parts: the core players, who are local Santa Barbara and Goleta natives; the advanced roller hockey league players from Earl Warren Showgrounds, and a group from Deckers Brands.
The core players started playing roller hockey when they were 5 and picked up ice hockey in their early teens, playing at the Channel Islands Ice Center in Oxnard. A few played club hockey in college. The guys range in age from 26 to 29.
Norton, who played ice hockey at Robert Morris University, first laced up his inline skates in the Goleta Hockey League on the blacktop at San Marcos High. His father, Paul, was the commissioner.
The advanced roller hockey players include Zach Barrett, Rori McMillin, Garrett Lamb, Amado Hernandez Jr., and Casey Horgan.
“These guys are great additions to the team that play the game the right way; a good group of unselfish guys who put the team before themselves. Many of these guys have an ice hockey background, too. We just happened to meet them at Earl Warren,” said Norton.
The Deckers Brands group consists of Ben Wahler, Mikko Sivonen, Michael Blake, and Chris Wood — “Wood is in two groups and the link between our core players and the Deckers Brands group,” said Norton.
Deckers Brands is a big donator to the rink, and it took a small sponsorship role in the Cavaliers."
“Not only did they help us financially to get new jerseys, but they also lent us some talented individuals who have some great hockey backgrounds and experience. Ben Wahler played for a top junior team, the Cushing Penguins, while Mikko Sivonen played in the East Coast Hockey League,” said Norton.
Hrboka and Stephen Wagner round out the team.
“Sean Hrboka was on my first ice hockey team down in Oxnard when I was 15 years old. We have been great friends ever since, playing all of Midgets together and on many adult league teams as well,” Norton said.
He noted that many of the original Cavaliers from the roller hockey days are playing at Ice in Paradise.
On taking the nickname to the ice: “This is a way for us to pay our respects to those who came before us in the Santa Barbara hockey community, and keep the spirit of the players/people we looked up to growing up,” he said. “We are thankful for everyone involved who made our childhood dream come true — Ice in Paradise.”
Norton, a rink employee, coach, referee, and private instructor, said Ice in Paradise is always looking for hockey players of all abilities for its adult (men and women) and youth leagues. The rink also offers a skating school. For information, click here.