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