It was a triumphant start to the season for the Woolwich Thrashers last weekend as the local sledge hockey team celebrated its tenth anniversary on ice with a pair of back-to-back wins against the Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey team.
Playing their season opener on home ice Saturday at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, the Thrashers posted a 4-0 shutout against their visitors from south of the border. The team followed up the win with a second victory on Sunday, claiming another 4-0 shutout against the Sabres, this time playing on the team’s home turf in Buffalo.
The wins not only give the Thrashers a strong four-point head-start in the 2018-19 season, but also showcase the young team’s exceptional prowess on ice. While the Thrashers have been honing their skills on ice for the past decade, it was only last year that the organization had the players and the clout to ice a team on the competitive rep. circuit, playing in the Ontario Sledge Hockey Association (OSHA) junior development division, which is open to players of all ages.
“The organization itself has been around for ten years,” explained Drew Bomhof, a volunteer with the Woolwich Thrashers. “[But] they only entered a team into the Ontario Sledge Hockey league last year for the first time, because up until that time there weren’t necessarily enough players to be able to ice a team. But as of last year, they did have enough numbers and it seemed like a good idea.”
The team’s first foray into competitive play proved a good move for the Thrashers, as the team made it into the top half in the standings over the regular season before striking out against Peterborough in the playoffs.
“So being our first year, it was quite extraordinary because we did make the A division playoffs, which was a little bit unexpected given that it was our first year in the league but we were really pleased with that,” said Bomhof.
“Because up until then, for eight seasons it had really just been come out on a Saturday and get some exercise and have some fun on the ice, but there wasn’t necessarily the competitive aspect to it. So I think both the parents and the players last year really enjoyed being a part of the league and saw a lot of growth both on the ice and off the ice with these kids.”
The Woolwich Thrashers have seen growth across the board, however, beyond just the competitive teams, notes Bomhof, with a steady stream of young new players entering the sport.
“We’ve also added a few kids at our recreational level – so the youngest kids who are just being introduced to the game. And so that group of kids is growing really nicely,” he said. “Which is great because our ultimate hope is to creating a feeder system all the way through, so you know our recreational players can ultimately join the open non-contact team and as they become adults, join the intermediate team that we have that’s made up of a lot of adults and some of the parents of some of our players.”
It’s the addition of young, new players, many of whom often lacked the same opportunities in youth sports as their able-bodied peers, that will ensure that the Thrashers continue to grow and develop as an organization for years to come.
“Absolutely. And it’s really how we’ve developed the organization is that for those first eight years when there was no league to play in and there weren’t enough kids,” said Bomhof.
“We continued to grow, and as more and more people hear about the organization, we pull from all over the place. We have a player from Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, Drayton, Fergus. So we’re really pulling from all over Waterloo and Wellington regions.”
In effect, Woolwich has become a hub in the sport of sledge hockey. Woolwich was even selected earlier this year to be the host for the 2019 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championships, in large part thanks to the efforts of the Thrashers. The Championships will be played in Woolwich in May of next year.
Those hoping to catch the Thrashers in action can do so at their next home game on December 2, from 3 to 4 p.m., when they’ll be taking on the Hamilton Sledgehammers.