MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, Calif.- -- In the midst of classes, live-fire exercises and deployment preparations, a group of Combat Center Marines makes the time to play. Their game doesn't receive the widespread recognition that football does in the Corps, and it is not even as publicized as most intramural softball leagues, but these Marines proved recently they have what it takes to become champions even without the publicity that most games and teams receive.
The Chiefs, a roller hockey team made up of a dozen Combat Center Marines and a former Marine Corps Communication and Electronics School instructor now stationed at Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., play in the Adult Bronze league in Upland, Calif. They compete against four southern California teams and play regularly at the Wayne Gretzky Center, 130 miles west of the Combat Center. The league holds games on Thursday nights at 8, 9 and 10 p.m. The number of games the team plays each night determines how late they leave the rink.
"We went into the championship facing two teams that beat us in the regular season," said team captain Mike Gaff, referring to the December 19 championship games. "Voo-Doo beat us twice, and X-Cell hadn't lost to anyone in the regular season. They entered the playoffs in first place and were heavily favored to win the championship."
Instead of giving the crowd what they expected, the Chiefs persevered. After beating Voo-Doo 8-5 and X-Cell 5-3, they went on to claim the title of Upland City Champions.
The team is used to facing adversity when it comes to the availability of their players, so when they found out on the day of the playoffs that Jason Cortright, their goaltender, had to tend to a family emergency, it was not the end of the team.
"At no one time during the season did we have our whole team available, because of field commitments," said Gaff, who added the team is always accepting new players of any skill level.
"We knew we would all have to step up our game to take some of the heat off of Ron in the net," said Gaff, referring to Ronn Lee, a forward called in to goal tend in Cortright's absence. Despite having only been in the net a few times during a game, Lee defended his goal vigilantly enough to be named the Most Valuable Player.
"I just took up goaltending earlier this year," said Lee. "Someone got hurt, so I tried it. After my first time in the net, I liked it enough to start buying my own gear. It was unbelievable to be named the MVP. It was a great feeling."
Roller hockey is played in two 22-minute halves with four skaters and a goaltender on the rink at one time.
"Although it is not considered a full contact sport, your body definitely feels like you played a game last night when you are at work the next morning," said Gaff.
The Chiefs placed second in the Military Memorial Day Tournament in Poway, Calif., last May, competing as the Combat Center Bulldogs. Soon after that, they decided it was time for a change, and the Chiefs were born. The name 'Chiefs' comes from an old Paul Newman movie, "Slap Shot." Along with the new name, the team adopted the motto 'Old Time Hockey.'
The Chiefs, who are sponsored by Marine Corps Community Services Sports, practice on the rink located at 6th and Brown Street in between the tactical vehicle displays. Practice is at 7 p.m. on Monday nights.
The next season starts Thursday. If you are interested in being part of a winning team, contact Staff Sergeant Mike Gaff at 368-0265 or 799-7497.