It was a big opportunity to impress the big leagues, as the township not only has a strong local scene with the Woolwich Thrashers, but is actively seeking to host the 2019 sledge hockey nationals.
“We put a bid in for the nationals and we’re hoping to get the bid,” said Keith Metzger, head of hockey operations for the Thrashers. “They sent some representatives for the national program, and we’ve already had a visit with them and we showed them some of the area stuff – restaurants and stuff like that.”
With Elmira already set to host the provincial curling championships next year, having the sledge hockey nationals as well would really be a great boost for the community, Metzger noted.
The Ontario team, for its part, had ample opportunity to try out the arena at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, which has been specifically outfitted for sledge hockey. During their time off, they had a weekend with which to take in the attractions of the township as well.
So how has Woolwich been for Sledge Hockey Ontario?
“Oh, actually Woolwich is fabulous. It’s a great facility and staff have been fabulous – the ice is really good. We love this place,” said head coach Todd Sargeant.
And the players?
“Awesome,” said Christina Picton enthusiastically. “I’ve come to Woolwich so many times for sledge hockey camps and different things, so it’s always great to come back to the arena. It’s awesome. People are friendly, it’s great.”
Picton is one of the few women on the provincial team.
“It’s always exciting to be playing at this higher level with the guys. As one of the only girls on the team, it’s very high level. You got to train really hard, you got to work your butt off to keep up with everybody and to just play,” she said.
Picton has been with the STO for three seasons now. Besides that, she’s also been on the Women’s Sledge Hockey of Canada team for years, a team that has its roots in Woolwich.
For Picton, during her time playing sledge hockey, the sport has changed a lot.
“I’ve been playing on that team for seven years, and to see the opportunity and the development and the calibre of play on the women’s side has been amazing,” she said.
“And then … provincially, I’ve played on Team Ontario for three seasons. Just to see the development across Canada is really exciting. When I used to play on this team in 2011, there was only Team Ontario and Team Quebec, but now there’s British Columbia, there’s Alberta, there’s teams out east. It’s grown so much, it’s really exciting.”
However, coach Sargeant notes the challenges of recruiting new players.
“I think we’ve gained a ton of experience on how to play sledge hockey. I think the one difficulty we’re having, and it’s probably true in a lot of sports, we’re not having the same influx from younger people that we had in the past. It’s a bit of a challenge for the sport [and] we need to recruit more players.”
The upside though is there is a lot of experience on the ice right now in Ontario, meaning taking home the gold at this year’s championships in Vancouver is in the cards.
“I think we got a good chance, we really do. Our guys are a lot more confident now than they were a year ago,” said Sargeant.
As for next year’s nationals location, a selection will likely be made soon. According to Americo Morais, general manager for the STO and committee member for selecting next year’s location, the final decision will likely be announced by the end of January.