Women in Woolwich finally have a local venue to play competitive hockey after advancing through the minor hockey system with the creation of a women’s senior team planned for the fall.
Woolwich Wild president Kevin Schmitt says the Woolwich Girls Minor Hockey Association has seen steady growth since its inception and women who age out of the oldest level – intermediate – have been looking for somewhere to keep playing.
“The players actually spearheaded it and said ‘what do we do when we’re done intermediate?’ The board was approached last year about the possibility of what do they do and they went away and did a whole bunch of research and it came back and everything seems to be lining up,” Schmitt said.
Tryouts will be held in August for the team which will welcome female players from 19 to 55 years old. They plan on taking between 15 and 18 players and will compete in the Southwestern Ontario Women’s Hockey League. It will also change the association from a junior to a full association, meaning they have a team at every level.
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“The big thing’s going to be the numbers, but we’ve done some preliminary research and it appears there is tremendous interest in running this team,” Schmitt said.
While in Mississauga this past weekend for provincials, Schmitt watched some senior games playing at the same arena and said it’s good hockey.
He notes the intermediate program is an excellent progression into the senior level. They didn’t rush into creating the senior team a few years ago when first approached because there wasn’t the same level of interest and they wanted to take their time with it to ensure it’s sustainable.
“That we’re able to field this just shows the strength of our girls hockey program, that they want to keep playing. It just speaks volumes to the success and what’s happened over all the years for the people who’ve come before me and have done to build up women’s hockey and girls hockey in Woolwich. We’ve had some tremendous accomplishments and adding this team will only add to that,” Schmitt said.
Doug Woodburn, coach of the intermediate team, says many of his players were going through the minor hockey system, staying in the area for post-secondary school, and wanted to continue playing hockey.
“I offered as long as I was coaching the intermediate team that I would check with the association every year to see if there was an interest and there really wasn’t an interest until this past year. I think partially because the change over in the executive and Kevin’s vision for growing the game and also because there was a critical mass of players that had been through the intermediate program now in the last four years. There’s overwhelming interest,” Woodburn said.
They knew there were women interested in playing, but they didn’t know just how many. He texted some of the current and former players of the intermediate team and within 10 minutes he had 15 former or current players saying they wanted to play.
“Girls hockey has grown to a certain point where there’s enough players that have gone through the rep system and are staying in the area and they just want to play competitive hockey into their adulthood. Where in the past they would have had to gone to places like Stratford or Milverton or Embro or Kitchener-Waterloo, Woolwich is deciding now that there’s enough that they want to cater to that,” Woodburn said.
Now they have to see how many of those expressions of interest turn into actual intent to register. If everyone who’s expressed interest signs up, they’ll actually have enough players for two full teams.
“There are two former players in the intermediate program living out west for work terms. They’re coming back into the area and they want to play. I think there’s been pent up demand for the last two to three years. We just didn’t recognize it,” Woodburn said.
But this isn’t the first time Woolwich has had a senior women’s hockey team. Midget BB coach, Karen Martin was one of the organizers of the women’s senior team in Woolwich before the WGMHA even existed. She organized the team in her 20s, and then threw her energy into coaching once she had children and they were playing hockey.
The team eventually fizzled due to a lack of players. But now, the next generation is ready to grow girls’ hockey in Woolwich again.
“Ironically, when this got started it was Karen’s daughters along with a few of their friends that wanted to resurrect the team. It’s kind of funny how the cycle’s gone,” Woodburn said.
Martin estimates it’s been 25 years since the women’s senior team existed. She says girls her age at that point in time could play ringette until they were 25, which she did. But once they aged out they needed a new hobby to tackle.
“We had enough girls interested to put together a senior team. I played for 10 years. I know it went on for longer than that, but it did eventually peter out as girls got older and there were no ranks coming up. But now that’s changing because of the girls’ hockey that has developed. I know when I helped get the association started my daughter was seven and now she’s 22, so totally 100 per cent eligible to play senior hockey,” Martin said.
Two of her three daughters are eligible to play on the senior team. It’s exciting for Martin because she remembers being that age and still wanting to play competitively, which will finally be an option for her daughters too.
And this will give women the chance to play in their own community where they first fell in love with the game.
“I think it’s important that we give these young ladies a place to play as they graduate out of the minor hockey system and keep them close to home because then that turns around into these girls being interested in giving back to hockey, and possibly coaching and getting involved that way for the younger girls,” Martin said.