A trio of Woolwich residents and former Woolwich Minor Hockey players had a big role in the success of the New Hamburg Firebirds this season.
Matt Horst of St. Jacobs wore the captain’s ‘C’, while Nick Pope of St. Jacobs and Damien Parent of Winterbourne were both assistant captains on the Junior C hockey club that finished first in the league this year, and went on to win the Niagara West title on Mar. 12 before bowing out to Grimsby in the Schmalz Cup all-Ontario final in a four-game sweep.
“It was an awesome season,” said Horst, a defenceman who has played for the New Hamburg squad for the past three years. “We all knew that we have accomplished something amazing, but it’s frustrating because only one team in all of Ontario gets to finish the year with a win.
“It’s kind of bittersweet.”
The series against Grimsby could have gone either way, said Horst, and a bounce here or there – particularly in Game 2 which ended with a 4-3 loss and in Game 3, a 3-2 loss in double overtime – would have changed the outcome of their season.
That shouldn’t take away from the team’s overall success this year. They finished with a regular season record of 26-7-3 before sweeping their first-round series against Woodstock 3-0, beating Aylmer in the second round in six games, and then defeating Norwich in the finals in five games for the Niagara West division championship.
Parent, who has played for New Hamburg for four seasons, said it was particularly nice to finally beat their rivals from Norwich in the finals.
“Last year and the year before you knew you’d lose to them [Norwich], but this year we had a sense that we were going to beat them,” he said, adding that the atmosphere at the Wilmot Recreation Complex for the final game was unreal as more than 1,000 fans packed the stands.
The players agree that the reason for their success this year was a result of how tight-knit the team became over the course of the season.
“There was never anybody that was going against the grain. Everybody was going the same direction and we didn’t have any big obstacles all year long within the dressing room that we had to overcome, which is amazing,” said Horst.
For Pope, playing in his first season as a Firebird after playing Junior B in Owen Sound last year, the team readily accepted him into the fold and he responded by leading the team in scoring during the regular season with 15 goals and 44 points playing on the same line as Parent for most of the season.
“We stuck together through thick and thin to win the championship. Everyone sacrificed something; it wasn’t just one line going out, or just one guy.”
This season was a reunion of sorts for Pope and Parent. The wingers had played on the same line during their Midget hockey days in Woolwich, losing in the OMHA finals that year.
Parent and Horst also played minor hockey together in Woolwich for four years before Horst left to pursue minor hockey in Waterloo.
“It’s kind of neat how everyone got back together,” said Horst.
Looking forward to next season, both Parent and Horst have graduated from the junior hockey ranks as they both turn 22 this year, leaving Pope, who is finishing up his first year of business foundations at Conestoga College, to return to the Firebirds squad to hopefully lead a defence of their league title with other returning players.
Parent will wrap up his business and arts degree at the University of Waterloo this summer, while Horst will finish his kinesiology degree in December and may suit up for the Waterloo men’s hockey team, but said he has dreams of coaching minor hockey and possibly in the Junior ranks some day.
In the meantime the pair is still letting the end of their Junior hockey careers sink in.
“It was a nice way to end our career, but it’s still slightly emotional,” said Parent.
“We got off the ice and you can’t help the tears,” added Horst. “All we’ve known is playing hockey.”