It’s a great year for hockey in Woolwich.
The Minor Atom A Woolwich Wildcats team took first place in the Ontario Minor Hockey Association finals last weekend versus Barrie and the Juvenile team is hoping for the same victorious finish this Saturday in Elmira.
“It was exciting. We did it in exciting fashion,” said Minor Atom coach Jason Camm.
The majority of the team has been together for the last two years. They didn’t progress the way they wanted to during the first two tournaments. The first one was an early bird tournament where they went three and one and lost to a team from Cambridge.
“The boys learned at that moment that you can’t take a game off because at some point you pay for it. And they worked hard every single practice since,” Camm said.
They went into the Oktoberfest tournament in Kitchener and had a similar result where in the last minute of the game a strong Burlington team scored and sent them home in the semi-finals.
At the Regional Silver Stick Tournament he says they still weren’t playing their best hockey but were able to pull off a win against New Hamburg in the final in overtime.
“Through the regular season we had only had one loss and that was to the second-place Burlington team. As the year progressed we just kept working hard, practicing hard. There were numerous games where we would be behind by a goal, two goals, three goals, and we kept fighting back,” Camm said.
When they went to the International Silver Stick Tournament they had just come off their first game of playoffs playing Guelph and had lost to them 4-3 in overtime. He says that was a wakeup call too because they were playing teams they should have been able to beat.
“The boys went into the game a little bit confident and they didn’t play as well as they could have and we lost the first game of playoffs and that was the last game we lost this year,” Camm said.
They went 6-0 in that tournament beating a strong Woodstock team 3-0 in the final.
At the end of the regular season they ended up going 23 games in a row without a loss.
“They’re a pretty special team. Even this weekend, actually the last two games that we played Barrie, both of the games we went down 2-0 and we fought back,” Camm said.
They’re the only Woolwich team to ever win the International Silver Stick tournament and the OMHA final in the same season.
“Even though we went unbeaten the games weren’t easy for us. We had to fight through them all. These boys, they just love to work hard,” Camm said.
He says the team skates fast and always works hard. He doesn’t take any credit for their success as a coach, instead stating their motivation comes from themselves.
“They’ll take control of a game and they’ll just keep building off what they’ve been doing every shift. We always talk about it’s one shift to turn a game around and they do that. They go out there and if they score one goal we’ll score again right away and they just know they can do it and believe they can do it,” Camm said.
Winning the OMHA finals in Barrie last weekend was a great way to cap off the season. He says they were aggressive, but clean.
“When they won everything came off, the gloves and the sticks were all over the ice and I think what they cherish the most is the red hats that you get for winning the OMHAs and the ability to skate around with that trophy,” Camm said.
They’ll move up to Major Atom next year and he says some may make the jump to AAA.
“I think the biggest thing that I would say on this team is that there’s not a team that would work harder than these boys. Whether or not they’re always the most skilled against the opponent, they always work harder than the other team, and that’s something that we focused on over the last two years,” Camm said.
When they returned home from Barrie they stopped at the WMC to watch the juvenile team play. A crowd of more than 700 people came out to support the juvenile team that night where they tied Erie North Shore.
Juvenile team coach Matt Shantz says they didn’t start the season off too well, but they’ve kept improving.
“They came a long way from the beginning of the season. The last half of the season we really came on and the guys really started to gel together. I think they’re having a lot of fun playing and hopefully we can pull out a win,” Shantz said.
They were up 2-0 in the series and tied on Saturday at home, followed by a loss on Sunday. If they win at home this coming Saturday they’ll win the championship.
He says they had seven goalies try out for the team this year and the two they chose are the best in the league. The team itself is much different than last year’s group.
“Oh, it’s night and day. I’m having a lot more fun with the guys. I think we’ve got a better team and everyone seems to be listening very well. We don’t seem to have any guys on our team with bad attitudes and they all want to win. It’s completely different because guys are actually showing up all the time for practices and you can tell that they actually care about playing this year,” Shantz said.
They’re finding more scoring chances this season and they’re quicker on their feet.
He notes the season turned around for them back in January at the Mooretown Silver Stick Tournament. He thinks a lot of the teams they faced thought Woolwich wouldn’t be a challenge but they ended up going undefeated until the semi finals. That tournament is where the players starting gelling more as a group and trusting the coaches’ advice.
The team’s hoping for another big crowd to fill the WMC this Saturday.
“I’m hoping they can really cheer us on and the guys can play a lot better than the last two games and bring it home because I’ve heard it hasn’t been done in 30 years for a juvenile hockey team in Woolwich,” Shantz said.
The Woolwich Wildcats Juvenile team plays this Saturday at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, with an 8:30 p.m. game time.