It’s the one of the biggest events in midget A hockey in the province, and it’s happening right here in Elmira. The Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF) Midget A Championship is being hosted at the Woolwich Memorial Centre this year, bringing some of the top teams in the province to compete on Elmira ice this weekend.
For township residents, the championships are a chance to catch some premium midget A hockey at home, as the winners of four minor hockey leagues from across Ontario battle it out in a set of round-robin matches to determine the province’s best.
But for the Junior Kings, who fell just short of clinching the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) midget A championships last month after a tight final series against Centre Wellington Fusion, the OHF games are a shot at redemption. As this year’s OHF hosts, the Elmira team received an automatic entry into the tournament.
“It’s the final tournament of the year,” explained Junior Kings head coach Zack Barriage. “So the winner of that series that we played [the OMHA], plus the winners of the other leagues, they all play in the tournament. But we’re hosting it this year, so we also get to play.”
While the Junior Sugar Kings will now be competing on ice for provincial status, it was another battle of sorts for Woolwich to become the hosts for the event. The Woolwich Minor Hockey Association placed a bid to host the event back in August, though they were not the only OMHA team to do so.
“I was obviously really excited and so happy that they chose us,” said Tracey Williams, chair of the championship organizing committee, and a member of Woolwich Minor Hockey. “There was that moment where I was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t believe now we actually have to plan this, because it is a lot of work.’ But I think it is a really cool thing for Woolwich to have, and a real feather in our cap as far as an association goes.”
Hosting rights for the OHF championships are rotated on an annual basis between the participating leagues. But while the OMHA was set as this year’s hosts for the midget A championship, Elmira had to compete against five other OMHA centres to win the bid.
For Woolwich, hosting the OHF championship is a major milestone in the township for minor hockey, says Williams.
“I wouldn’t say [it’s] a once in a lifetime opportunity for Woolwich, but it will be a once in, say, a decade or more. We’ve never hosted it before in all the years,” she says. “It’s going to be a once in, certainly a hockey-career lifetime for this to happen for our town, and it’s just going to be great hockey.”
With Elmira hosting the OHF championship, the Elmira Junior Sugar Kings will be facing off against the winners of four minor hockey leagues in the province. Those are the winners of the OMHA, the Centre Wellington Fusion; the Northern Ontario Hockey Association (NOHA), New Liskeard Lions; the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL), Lorne Park Clarkson Wild; and the Alliance’s Stratford Warriors.
“I think we can definitely do well. I mean, with the tournament style, it’s really different than a series,” said Barriage. “Like it’s one game, right? Anything can happen in a one-game series versus a five-game series, so it’s anyone’s game really.”
That was certainly the case in the finals of the OMHA, which saw the Junior Kings take on Centre Wellington in March. The two teams were so evenly matched it took an extra sixth game on March 29, and two full overtimes, for the series winner to be decided.
“Usually it’s only a five game series, but we tied game five after an overtime. So then they went to game six, and in game six they played three overtimes. We played two of them and lost to a second one,” said Barriage.
It was a game that was played down to the wire, with each save and each miss meaning the difference between an OMHA championship victory, and defeat.
Centre Wellington picked up an early lead in their March 29 meeting, putting two on the board before the first frame was out. The Kings responded in the second with a pair of their own on a four-minute penalty power play to tie the teams 2-2 as they headed into the third frame, where the two teams would be forced into several overtimes.
Ultimately, it was Centre Wellington that slotted the game-winning point, giving them the OMHA midget A championship.
“There was fantastic goaltending by both teams in that series. And there were so many times where one shot, one save was the difference to a series,” said Barriage. “And likewise, our goalie made some amazing saves in that third period and the first overtime that they probably should have won some of those shots too. So yeah it’s crazy. It comes down to one puck on net, or one breakaway and that’s all it is to win the whole thing. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
With the Kings and Fusion set to meet again this weekend at the WMC, it’s anyone’s guess how their meeting will go this time. But those hoping to catch the action will have ample opportunities, as five games are scheduled on both Friday and Saturday, and another three on Sunday.
Game times on Friday and Saturday are at 10 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 2:45 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. On Sunday the second and third place teams will face each other for an early morning game at 8:30 a.m., followed by the first and fourth teams playing at 10:30 a.m.
The final game of the championship will see the winners play in a 3:30 matinee for the provincial title.
“This is a really big event,” said Kurt Wilkie, VP of representative hockey with Woolwich Minor Hockey. “This is one of the biggest events for midget A hockey. It’s a big tournament, a lot of communities put a bid in for this and we were lucky enough to get it. So it’s a big thing to be a part of.
“If you want to see some exciting midget hockey, this will be the place to be this weekend,” he added.