The Woolwich Memorial Centre was the training ground last week for 22 elite athletes on Canada’s National Para Ice Hockey team. Their presence there was also an opportunity for members of the Woolwich Thrashers squad to interact with the players.
The rules of para ice hockey, which caters to athletes with physical disabilities, are similar to standard ice hockey; the main difference is that players are seated on sleds and use special hockey sticks with metal “teeth” on the tips of the handles to help navigate the ice.
“I watched their practice; they were so fast,” said 5-year-old Alex Winter of Elora, a member of Woolwich Thrashers. “They’re the best.”
The local team got to meet the national team at the concourse café in the WMC last Thursday night for a meet-and-greet, photo and autograph session.
“Quite a few of our kids showed up – they were really excited about it,” said Keith Metzger, founder of Woolwich Thrashers. “It went really well.”
Attendance of the training camp was not particularly high, said Metzger, but that may have been attributed to the timing. The red-versus-white games took place during the weekdays from 2 p.m. until about 4:30 p.m., a timeframe when most people are at work.
“The township did really good making sure the players got what they needed – they kept the ice in good shape, moving benches in and out even though it was extra work for them. … The township worker guys did a great job,” said Metzger.
The training camp was a developmental showcase, consisting of practices as well as three red-versus-white games. Team white and team red both won a matchup each, while the third game was less about scoring and more focused on miscellaneous techniques, such as mismatched player numbers, and pulling the goalie.
“It was very exciting for me. It’s surprising how fast they are, and how quick they turn,” said Metzger. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Metzger added that Team Canada staff were pleased with the facility, and expected that they might visit again in the future. The training camp was intended to prepare players for their upcoming 2019 Canadian Tire Para Hockey Cup tournament taking place in early December.
Players on Team Canada come from all across the country, from as far west as British Columbia to as far east as Newfoundland. During their time in Woolwich, the athletes stayed in Waterloo.
Corbyn Smith of Monkton was the closest to home. The 21-year-old said he is confident about the team’s chances heading into the upcoming tournament.
“I grew up pretty close to here, so to have a camp so close to home … it’s really awesome,” said Smith. “I think our team’s looking great. … I feel great personally, so we’ll see what happens in a couple of weeks, but I know we’re well-prepared.”
Team Canada will travel to Paradise in Newfoundland to take on Czech Republic, Russia, and the United States on December 1-7.