The 2019 Canadian Sledge Hockey Championships came to a close on Sunday after an electrifying three-day tournament that saw some of the top teams in the country compete on Elmira ice. Team Ontario, Team Alberta, Team Quebec and Team B.C. were all in the township over the weekend to take part in the tournament, which this year was hosted at the Woolwich Memorial Centre.
Taking home the gold and defending their championship title for their fourth straight season were Team Alberta, who defeated the runner-ups Team Ontario in the championship finals on Sunday.
“It’s our fourth in a row, so we’re 20-0, which is a testament to the guys on the team,” said Team Alberta head coach Steve Arsenault shortly after Sunday’s showdown. “We still have a lot work to do for getting prepped for next season, but it should be good.”
Taking the silver were Team Ontario, followed by bronze-medalists Quebec.
Another winner to come out of the tournament was the township itself, with organizers and sledge teams alike noting a smoothly run, well-received tournament.
“It went well. It went very well,” said Sandy Metzger, one of the leading organizers for the event. She, together with her husband Keith, jointly founded the local sledge hockey team, the Woolwich Thrashers, and have championed the para-sport in the region.
“Our goal was to run the event on a break-even, and I think we’ve done that and we’re very pleased with that,” said Metzger. An estimated 600 people turned up for the championship finals on Sunday, said Metzger, noting no exact count was taken because the games were free to attend.
“Which surpassed expectation. So we’re very pleased with how the community supported it. We weren’t sure how it would be supported that way, but it’s been awesome,” she said. “The community came out and checked us out, and now we have a lot of new sledge hockey fans now.”
The weekend championship opened bright an early on Friday with a game between Quebec and B.C. Immediately off the hop, the Quebecers put the B.C. contingent in their place with a 7-0 shutout.
The morning game was followed by the opening ceremonies, which were watched by a packed stadium, as area school children were bussed from all over to watch Team Ontario take on Alberta in the following game. About 1,200 elementary students from seven local schools came out, ensuring the teams would get a thunderous welcome to the Woolwich tournament.
Playing to a full house, Ontario and Alberta squared off in their first meeting of the weekend. It would be an early preview of the championship’s gold medal game later on Sunday, and a reminder of what Team Ontario was up against. Alberta proved to be the dominant team in this championship, going on to trounce Ontario 5-1, and then Quebec later that day 5-0.
Team Ontario would recover from the loss with a 7-1 win against B.C.
Two more games would be played on Saturday before the playoffs, Alberta v. B.C. (8-0) and then Ontario v. Quebec (2-1), setting the lines up for the semi-final matches later that evening.
Leading the pack in this tournament was Alberta with three wins and no losses, followed by Ontario in second at 2-1, Quebec at 1-2 and then B.C. at 0-3.
The Quebec and Ontario match proved to be incredibly close, with Ontario clinching the victory in a shootout.
“It was a really tough fought game by both sides,” said Keith Metzger. “They did a five-minute overtime, and then it went into a shootout, and Ontario won that one in a shoot out. So it was a really exciting game.”
Taking their win by a hair’s breadth, Ontario would have to recreate the victory against Quebec just hours later in the semi-finals, to have a shot for gold.
Ultimately, Team Ontario did just that with another 2-1 win against Quebec, giving the province’s team a berth to the championship finals the following day on Sunday. Meeting them on the other side of the blue line would be Alberta, which handily defeated B.C. in the semi-finals by a 9-1 spread.
Pitting Ontario and Alberta for a second and final showdown on Sunday, Ontario knew it was up for a challenge. The Albertan contenders had proved to shrug off all the competition this weekend, starting with their 5-1 takedown of Ontario earlier in the weekend.
Team Ontario would pull out all the stops in this game, putting up two points on the board while fighting back the fierce Albertan attack. It was not enough to stop Team Alberta from putting up four markers of their own and taking the championship gold. But Ontario has the distinction of putting up the strongest opposition to Alberta all weekend; though they didn’t win, they came the closest with a 4-2 decision.
Tellingly, when Alberta had to chose the player on Team Ontario most deserving of MVP, they chose goalie Jessie Gregory for the honour, who said she was surprised, but felt pretty good about the recognition.
“I’m a little surprised, because I let in a couple, but I guess I stopped a lot,” said Gregory after the match.
“[It was an] excellent game. I think that was our best game of the tournament for sure. We came together as a team – a couple of bad bounces, but overall it was a great game.”
While Ontario didn’t pick up the championship win, the event proved to be a real winner with all those that attended.
“It was a fantastic event,” said Team Ontario head coach Rob Hogg, right after the closing ceremonies. “We came up a little short, but the team all played extremely well. There was a lot of heart.”
This is not the Ontario sledge hockey team’s first time in Elmira, as the Woolwich arena has become a popular destination for the team’s training camps. Team Ontario held a camp most recently just last month, and plans to be back in Elmira for more sledge hockey.
“We love the township. We had a camp here a couple weeks ago, and the one a year ago, and we’re coming back next year,” said Hogg.