A local girls’ hockey team went on the trip of a lifetime to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) “Dream Gap” tour in Toronto last weekend.
The Woolwich Wild Atom A hockey team had the chance to participate in the opening ceremonies, meet professional hockey players, and emerge victorious from their Oakville tournament on Sunday.
Head coach Pat McCoubrey said the that the schedule worked out: the Oakville tournament planned months ago was taking place just a 30-kilometre distance away from Toronto, where the professional hockey event was taking place.
“The PWHPA announced the Dream Gap tour around the same time that we were talking about role models – it was perfect timing,” said McCoubrey.
“We were in Oakville for a hockey tournament the same weekend that the event was held. We reached out to the PWHPA, and they allowed us to participate actively in the event.”
The PWHPA Dream Gap is a travelling tour that showcases the talents of top female hockey players from around the world. The purpose of the journey is to create a better, more sustainable future for the next generation of girls in the sport.
“The [PWHPA] want little girls to be able to look at professional hockey as being a viable option for them,” said McCoubrey.
There are many examples of well-known male athletes in the sport, giving young boys plenty of role models to look up to. However, there is no realistic equivalent for aspiring female hockey players to imagine their futures.
The tour is the first step to close that ‘dream gap,’ so that young girls and boys can share the dream of one day making a living as a professional hockey player.
The inaugural event in Toronto featured youth clinics and a four-team exhibition tournament last Saturday and Sunday.
The 9- and 10-year-olds of the Atom A team had the opportunity to see the cast of Hockey Night in Canada – Don Cherry, Ron MacLean, Tara Slone and Brian Burke – in person.
The Woolwich Wild roster also got to meet many professional women’s hockey players. Laura Fortino, a two-time Olympic medalist for Team Canada and a professional ice hockey player for the Markham Thunder, approached the Woolwich Wild team during intermission to provide advice.
Nine-year-old Waterloo goaltender and newcomer to the Woolwich Wild, Emma Heron, said it was a highlight of the weekend.
“She came and signed autographs and she gave us some really cool tips: treat every game as important as the next one and to stay calm,” said Heron. “It was a fun treat.”
“The whole experience really inspired the team because they went on to win the Oakville Atom A tournament,” added McCoubrey.
The Woolwich Wild truly took this advice to heart and treated every game like it counted throughout the weekend, he said, noting the Oakville Harvest Classic is an elite preseason tournament which includes 16 Atom A teams throughout Ontario and the U.S.
The Woolwich Wild won every single matchup. First, the girls faced off against the Burlington Barracudas and came out on top 3-2 on Friday. The same day, they won 3-1 against the Toronto Leaside Wildcats.
On Saturday, Woolwich Wild beat out the Perinton Blades 7-3, then dominated the Etobicoke Dolphins 5-2 later that afternoon.
They kept up the heat on Sunday, winning against the Gloucester Cumberland Stars 4-3 before one final victory taking on the North Simcoe Capitals with a final score of 3-2.
“Right after the team got that advice, they played their semi-final game, which ended in a shootout,” explained Emma’s mother, Amy. “Emma’s goalie partner, Elle, was in the shootout; it was seven rounds, and they won the finals Sunday afternoon.”
“They won every single game: six games in three days … it was pretty amazing.”
The girls walked away with more than sweet victory, as Heron said the experience provided her with role models to look up to in the future.
“I value their leadership and look up to their hard work and their kindness. They were having so much fun out there. They weren’t playing just to win; they were playing to have fun and do what they love,” said Heron. “It was showing this generation of girls that we can do anything.”
The Dream Gap tour continues on in New Hampshire and Chicago in October.