Wool­wich sledge hockey team plays its first rep. league game

Last week­end’s home-opener added a new di­men­sion to or­ga­ni­za­tion that is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity

The Woolwich Observer - - SPORTS - FAISAL ALI

IT WAS AN EX­CIT­ING week­end for the ju­nior Wool­wich Thrash­ers, as the lo­cal sledge hockey team com­peted in its first ever rep. league game. The team held their home­opener and first game of the sea­son Satur­day against the vis­it­ing Wind­sor Ice Bul­lets. And though the Thrash­ers ul­ti­mately fell 3-0, the game was none­the­less a huge mile­stone for the young team.

“We’ve been work­ing to­wards [play­ing in the league] since we started,” said head coach Keith Met­zger. “This is our ninth sea­son and it’s pretty ex­cit­ing for the play­ers and par­ents.”

The Wool­wich Sledge Hockey (WSH) or­ga­ni­za­tion has been giv­ing chil­dren and adults with dis­abil­i­ties the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate in recre­ational sports in the town­ship for almost a decade now. But this year was the first the WSH had enough ded­i­cated play­ers to com­pete in the On­tario Sledge Hockey As­so­ci­a­tion (OSHA) de­vel­op­ment league.

The league places the team of un­der 16-year-olds in the Western di­vi­sion, to face off against teams as far away as Wind­sor, Lon­don and even Buf­falo, NY.

For many play­ers, their par­ents and even the coach, play­ing in the league is an en­tirely new ex­pe­ri­ence. Most have never had the chance to par­tic­i­pate in a com­pet­i­tive sports team and ev­ery­thing from the long-dis­tance travel to the stronger com­pe­ti­tion will take some get­ting used to.

“Some of the par­ents don’t know a lot about be­ing a hockey mum or dad, to do the trav­el­ing and all that, so it’s go­ing to be a new ex­pe­ri­ence for them also,” said Met­zger.

“And Satur­day I think the kids were re­ally pumped up and ex­cited to play. I think they were just a lit­tle bit ner­vous dur­ing the game, and I think they’ll set­tle down. I’m sure they’re go- ing to im­prove and get a lot bet­ter as the sea­son goes on.”

In­deed, watch­ing the game on Satur­day, the air was elec­tric as par­ents en­thu­si­as­ti­cally cheered and hollered and groaned with ev­ery shot, and kids ex­cit­edly dashed across the ice af­ter the puck.

“There is a lot of pas­sion,” noted Sandy Met­zger who, along with her hus­band, started the sledge hockey or­ga­ni­za­tion in Wool­wich. “The kids ... and adults, every­body’s very pas­sion­ate about their hockey. It’s typ­i­cal Cana­di­ans. There might be a dis­abil­ity in­volved but they just want to do the same as every­body else. They want to play hockey.”

It’s a lot of travel to play in a league and a lot of work, but for the par­ents of 12-year-old Thrasher Nate McCarthy, it is en­tirely worth it. Nate has been on the team for about six or seven years now, and his par­ents John McCarthy and Elaine Browne have been rou­tinely bring­ing their son from out­side the town­ship to par­tic­i­pate.

“He ab­so­lutely loves the game,” said McCarthy, who is of­ten in­volved as his son’s pusher on the ice, help­ing him move around the rink. “He’s al­ways wanted ... to be a part of a team, and there’s not very many op­por­tu­ni­ties. He’s in a wheel­chair full-time, so this gives him an op­por­tu­nity to be a part of a team, to do all the events,” he ex­plained.

The par­ents note that the team is the big­gest it’s ever been this year, and is only

get­ting more pop­u­lar.

“[It’s] amaz­ing, since last year, a lot of peo­ple have joined, so the word’s get­ting out. There’s a big need for this,” added Browne.

“We come all the way from Cam­bridge to play be­cause you have to go to where it is, so lots of peo­ple who don’t nec­es­sar­ily live in Elmira ben­e­fit from hav­ing this team here, and the kids re­ally look for­ward to it.”

For Nate, they say, the sledge hockey team has been a way for him to be like other kids and do the things that they do and share those ex­pe­ri­ences.

“You talk to your neigh­bours, and all the kids, they’re on travel teams or they have to go to cer­tain places to play other teams, and we’ve never had that op­por­tu­nity. And now it’s here for us,” said McCarthy.

“Be­cause even though our child has a dis­abil­ity, he’s a kid,” added Browne. “He wants to have fun, he wants to play games so this is pretty ex­cit­ing. Be­cause oth­er­wise he goes to school, and he hears all the other kids talk­ing about how they play hockey and they go ski­ing or what­ever. And now, be­cause of groups like this, he can do all those things.”

Right now, the Wool­wich Thrash­ers are play­ing in the OSHA de­vel­op­ment league; while the league doesn’t have any spec­i­fied age-re­stric­tions, it’s geared to­wards novice play­ers.

The next mile­stone for the Wool­wich Thrash­ers, said Keith Met­zger, is to par­tic­i­pate in the in­ter­me­di­ate league, which is typ­i­cally re­served for play­ers 16 and over with more ad­vanced skills in the game. Met­zger says he hopes as the younger Thrash­ers grow older, they will even­tu­ally have enough play­ers to be­gin play­ing in the more se­nior league.

For now, how­ever, the ju­nior team will be trav­el­ling all over the map in the next few months, rep­re­sent­ing Wool­wich in the sport of sledge hockey. The next home game will be just over a month from now, on Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. in Elmira.

[FAISAL ALI / THE OB­SERVER]

The Wool­wich Sledge Hockey or­ga­ni­za­tion and the Grand River Re­gional Cancer Cen­tre each re­ceived $5,000 this year from the Water­loo County Steam-Thresh­ers’ Reunion at the hockey team’s home-opener Satur­day at the WMC.

[FAISAL ALI / THE OB­SERVER]

The Wool­wich Thrash­ers played their first-ever league game on Satur­day against the vis­it­ing Wind­sor Ice Bul­lets.

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