Hockey has helped Mission 18U defenseman Spitzer ‘cope’ with his mom’s passing

Living with “Peace, Love and Positivity” approach carries Spitzer on, off the ice

By Ross Forman

Everything has been difficult for about the past year for Will Spitzer, a senior at Stevenson High School who plays defense for the Chicago Mission Midget 18U team.

Going to school, going to practice, and playing games. Everything is challenging, everything is difficult, and everything is a reminder. Everything, every day.

It was about a year ago when his mom, Erin Pinsler, was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

She passed away this past May 5.

“Every day is hard to go through without her because she was the person (who) I went to for everything, and the person I could count on,” said Spitzer, 17, who lives in Lincolnshire. “She gave me a sense of security, and when you lose that sense of security, you feel lost. No matter if I was sad, happy or mad, she was always there and was by my side. I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked with her or anybody in my family due to hockey and school. It’s extremely difficult to play games because for some odd reason, I look in the stands and when I do this, I don’t see her there like she always was. She would come to every one of my games because she was my biggest supporter.

“I don’t let it affect my game, but it saddens me every time. At this point, it’s difficult to do anything because most things remind me of her.”

But Spitzer knows his mom would just want her son to be happy, continue living life by their motto: “Peace, Love and Positivity,” which he adopted several years ago from rapper /hip-hip artist Logic.

“Logic has helped me through this hard time with his music and his message,” Spitzer said. “A few years before my mother’s passing I wore a necklace that said ‘PLP’ on it and when she passed, I gave her the necklace and got myself another one so we had the motto together forever.

“This motto is what keeps me going every single day. I don’t take this necklace off because it pushes me to keep going, (to) persevere and continue to follow my dream of having hockey and a job.”

The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Spitzer, who learned to skate at age 4, had full intentions of playing this season. But still, he took a month break last summer from everything – just to calm down and be with my family, he said.

He returned to the ice to fulfill his dream and because “it is what my mom would have wanted me to do,” he said. “She wouldn’t want me to stop living my life because she wasn’t there. She would want me to pursue my dreams. She would want me to get back to work. I wanted to not only be the best hockey player I could possibly be, but, I wanted to make my mom proud.”

Spitzer’s Mission are 22-26-0-2 overall this season, and Spitzer leads the team with 12 assists in 20 High Performance Hockey League games. Spitzer is tied with forward Mac Carso (9 goals, 3 assists) for the team lead in points.

“Hockey has helped me cope with my mom’s passing tremendously. Hockey is an escape for me to get away from all of the drama – of school and everything else and just have some fun,” he said. “Loving hockey and being able to get on the ice takes my mind off of everything. Being with the boys is different than any other experience. Being with a band of brothers (who) you can count on and know that they will support you is incredible. Hockey is my way of getting away from everything.

“My teammates have helped me to a point that is unexplainable. Although I never talk about my mom with them, they all understand what I have gone through. Just being with my teammates takes my mind off of everything. There’s never a dull moment I’m with them; we are always having fun and laughing; this allows me to not think about anything else that is going on.”

Robby Drazner is a fellow Stevenson senior who also skates for the Mission. In fact, they were defensive partners all last season when they skated for the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals.

“We have been really good friends for about six years, but last season when I lost my mom was what really showed our true friendship,” Spitzer said. “After my mother had passed near the end of the school year, he was there for me and always checking up on me and making sure I was OK.

“When summer came around, we hung out every single day. Robby would help me take my mind off of the loss of my mother every single day by getting me out of my house. There was never a moment when we would hangout that we weren’t laughing and it continues to be that way.”

Spitzer and Drazner have never talked about Spitzer’s mom, or how he’s feeling. Drazner just seemed to know exactly what was going through Spitzer’s head and he knew exactly how to get Spitzer’s mind off of it.

“When you hear about cancer and its ability to take away one’s life, yet alone a loved one … there are no words,” said Mission head coach Nick DeSalvo. “Our team knew how important it was to honor Erin, (so) we wear her initials on our jerseys this year.

“Will has taught me a lot this year, (including) that life is short and unexpected moments happen, so cherish every moment and enjoy life to the fullest. Hockey makes the world very small and the community gives great support, as I have witnessed.”

Spitzer and Drazner and the rest of the Mission travel to Massachusetts this weekend for several games. The Stevenson duo are two of five Mission defensemen, along with Jacob Schleinz, Adam Szubert and Brett Tierney.

“We had a rough start to the season. We weren’t fully together as a team and were playing our own games and that doesn’t win hockey games,” Spitzer said. “Over time, we have been getting better and better, not only as a team on the ice, but also off the ice. Everybody has been growing closer to each other as the season goes on. We are slowly climbing our way back to .500 and making our final push as the season is coming to an end.

“Playing for the Mission means something more than other teams. There’s this mentality that comes with the team name. When I was on the Mission years ago, (teammates) showed me the style of play and the work ethic that is needed to get to get to the next level. The Mission program pushes players to their limits and makes them the best players that they can possibly be. (The) Mission also provides some of the best facilities and coaches to also further the players’ development. (The) Mission is definitely one of the best all-around programs in the country at the AAA level that will further a players’ development and prepare them for the next level of hockey.

“My team’s strength this year is our speed. We are definitely not the most skilled or (a) big team, but we definitely have some speed that is unmatched by most teams at our level.”

Spitzer’s style of play is being strong defensively, thus eliminating most opponent’s scoring opportunities, but also being offensive and getting pucks to the net from the point. “I don’t take the body too often, but I win my battles in the corners due to my stick work. The strength of my game is my speed and my footwork.”

DeSalvo said Spitzer’s “strong skating and puck-moving abilities have helped anchor” the Mission’s defense this season. “His play throughout the season shows his quality characteristics and leadership,” DeSalvo added.

The biggest influences on Spitzer’s hockey career are his brothers. “I watched them play more than I watched the NHL,” Spitzer said. “Although I don’t play like any of my brothers in anyway, they taught me (the) basics of the game and still continue to give me tips every so often.

“Hockey is a big part of my life because it is what I have been doing for almost my whole life. I was surrounded by hockey growing up. I have dedicated so much time to hockey that, at this point, it is a lifestyle. Also, most importantly, hockey is very important to me because my mom would always push me to be a better hockey player. I always wanted to make her proud when she was sitting in the stands. She would always tell me how she loved to watch me play.

“So now I play hockey for my mom.”

Every game is played for her. Every game he thinks about her.

She no doubt would have been smiling earlier this season when he scored, a rarity unto itself, and it was against Shattuck-St. Mary’s, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time.

That’s the game that Spitzer and his teammates, “realized that we could compete with any team in the country,” he said.

Yep, his mom would be proud.

Around The Rink With … Will Spitzer

Favorite NHL Team: Las Vegas Golden Knights
Favorite NHL Player: Erik Karlsson
Favorite Sport (other than hockey): Bowling
Favorite Pro Athlete: Jason Belmonte
Favorite app: Snapchat
Favorite TV Show: Family Guy
Favorite Sports Movie: BASEketball
Hardest Slapshot On Your Team (excluding yourself): Robby Drazner
Teammate Who, Someday, Will Make A Great Coach (excluding yourself): Brett Tierney
Best Local and/or HS Jerseys (other than your team): New Trier
Worst Local and/or HS Jerseys (other than your team): Loyola
Jersey Number: “Most of my years I have been No. 13 because that’s what number my brother Sam wore while he was playing hockey. But the years that I couldn’t pick 13, I have picked 12 just because it is a defenseman’s number and it is close to 13.”
Nickname: Spitzy
College Plans: “(Am) hoping to play Division I college hockey, (but am) not certain about where.”
Playing Locally: He skated for the Glenview Stars, then after a few years went to the Chicago Bruins. He played for the Mission for five years, for Team Illinois for one year, and then the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals for one year.
Learned to Skate: By longtime Glenview coach Sylvain Turcotte.
Hooked on Hockey: “After I learned how to skate, I didn’t want to take my skates off. I used to wear my skates around, even to places other than the rink. Also considering my brothers played hockey, I was around them talking about it and shooting in the driveway almost every day. Hockey (grew) on me.”

Ross Forman has written about Illinois high school hockey for more than 15 years, and is the only sportswriter to have covered Illinois High School hockey every year during that stretch. He played locally and then at Indiana University before becoming a referee. Ross was a referee for the State Championship game several years ago at the United Center. Contact Ross by email at

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