From a handful of enthusiastic athletes 10 years ago to an organization with teams iced across multiple divisions, the Woolwich Thrashers have become a tour de force in the sport of sledge hockey.
Earlier this fall, the Thrashers opened their second rep. season in the Ontario Sledge Hockey Association, trouncing the Buffalo Sabres in their first home-and-home series of the year. In February, Woolwich will play host to the 2019 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championships, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Thrashers.
And now, adding even more to the team’s rising success in the sport, several young players from the Thrashers’ open division are taking their skills to a larger arena.
Logan Gillingham was selected to play in Team Ontario this year, while her teammates Joshua Chambers and Troy Clemmer were picked up to play in the ParaSport Championships in February.
“It’s really, really cool,” said Gillingham of playing for the provincial women’s team.
“I’ve always wanted to make, like, higher than just a smaller house league team, because I’ve been playing sports my whole life,” said the 16-year-old athlete. “I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it quickly, and it’s really amazing. Hopefully down the road I make it to Team Canada. That’s the goal.”
For Gillingham, who started playing sledge hockey just two years ago, the move to Team Ontario is a significant step towards her national aspirations. She’ll be playing on the province’s women’s team alongside some of the top talent in the country this season, while also competing with the Thrashers.
“It’s [a] woman’s Team Ontario, so there’s people from all over Ontario and it’s all ages. A few of them are on the national team as well as on this team,” noted Gillingham.
While playing for the provincial team, she’ll continue to battle with the Woolwich Thrashers – her sledge-family, as she calls it – in the open rep. league.
“We don’t have a lot of practices for Team Ontario because everybody plays on their home team as well. So it kind of depends who’s around to practice,” she explained.
As a result, it’s hard to compare the level of camaraderie on the provincial team with that of her home team.
“[It’s] not as much, no. This is like the best place for the family-orientated, team-orientated play,” said Gillingham.
Also representing the Thrashers’ name on a larger playing field are teammates Joshua Chambers and Troy Clemmer. Both will be taking part in the upcoming ParaSport Ontario games in February. The games, set for the second weekend of the month, are expected to feature more than 500 participants, with sledge hockey teams from Kitchener to Orillia all contributing players.
Both Chambers and Clemmer are entering their fifth year with the Thrashers – half the organization’s life – and in that time have seen the organization, and themselves, grow tremendously. Icing players for the ParaSport games is just one more achievement for the group.
“There have been a lot more players coming in in the last five years,” said Chambers. “When Troy and I started, there were no games at all, there were no tournaments or anything. So we’ve played more games over the years, more tournaments. It’s definitely evolved quite a bit.”
The team has seen a significant boost in membership amongst children as well, with a feeder system of young players ensuring that the Thrashers will continue to grow and thrive for years to come.
“We’ve had more players come out and it’s fun to see them grow,” added Clemmer, who along with his teammates helps coach the tots. “We’ve definitely seen some our players grow since I started.”
“We all kind of started off as a mix of all ages last year, because we only had one practice time,” said Gillingham. “So I think this year, just getting to see everybody like play with the puck a little more, because now there’s more ice time, has been really cool.”
Right now, the priority for the Thrashers open team is to make it further into the playoffs than last year, their inaugural rep. season.
“Well obviously, I think our goal is to win this year,” said Chambers.
“Since the beginning of the season last year, we didn’t do that well,” noted Gillingham with a laugh. “We kind of got creamed our first two games last year. Like 4-0, I think it was.”
“But then to end of the season we did pretty well. We got to become a really strong team together,” she added. “We did extremely well our first year. We made it to playoffs, but lost, unfortunately.”
Those hoping to catch the Thrashers in action can find them at their next home game at the Woolwich Memorial Centre on January 5, from 2-3 p.m. against Essex-Kent.