It’s been a banner year for minor hockey in Woolwich as four of the 14 Rep A teams have advanced to the Ontario Minor Hockey Association league finals, the most ever in one year.
They are the Major Novice A, the Minor Atom A, the Minor Bantam A and the Major Juvenile Woolwich Wild teams.
“I’ve contacted the Ontario Minor Hockey Association, which has all the records. I haven’t heard back from them, but as far as we can find in our records, this is the most we’ve ever had,” said Woolwich Minor Hockey president Steve Hanley. “We’ve had a lot of teams make it to the semis, and I can remember about five or six years ago we had two teams make it to the finals, but never four teams.
“It says a lot about our program and our coaching,” he added.
The teams cover a wide range of age groups, from as young as 8 and 9 in the Major Novice A, all the way up to 19 and 20 at the Major Juvenile level. Despite the age differences, there are many similarities: all four coaches stress that their players work together as a team, which has been key to their success.
“Any games that went to overtime and things like that they’ve competed hard and they just believe that they’re going to win,” said Lance Brezynskie, head coach of the Major Novice A team. “Ninety per cent of it is just believing in themselves.”
Tony Code, coach of the Minor Atom squad, echoed that sentiment about his own team.
“They are a great group of teammates. They really try to pick each other up and play together quite well,”
The challenge for Woolwich Minor Hockey – and ice scheduler Deb Good in particular – is trying to coordinate ice time for each of the teams, although it’s been relatively smooth sailing thus far.
“You want to make it the perfect time for all the teams, that was my challenge,” Good explained. “Of course I want to give them the optimum time and ice on Snyder (arena) because there have been a lot of fans. It’s been tricky.”
She says that other teams that have already been eliminated from the playoffs or had their seasons end early have been gracious enough to give up their ice time – time that they have already paid for – in order to give more prime ice to the teams still in the hunt for the league title.
Juggling referees – who must be from out-of-town to avoid any bias – and ensuring that every team has the allotted time necessary for their games, including overtime, has made it that much more difficult, she added.
Despite the stress to make sure the ice times work, Good agreed that it is very exciting to have four teams in the finals this year.
Each team has already started their finals, and has fared quite well thus far. The Major Juvenile squad is tied in their series one game apiece against Orono, last year’s all-Ontario champions. They lost game-one at home 4-1, but drew even on the road by winning game-two 3-2. Their next game is set for Saturday in Orono, with the next home date not until next Satuday, Mar. 26 at 5 p.m.
“They’re a tough team, they don’t have a lot of weaknesses, so we have to play our best to beat them,” said head coach Jamie Neeb.
Likewise, the Minor Bantam A is tied in their series against Uxbridge at one game apiece. They lost 3-1 at home last Saturday then won the following day 4-2. They hit the ice this afternoon (Saturday) at 2 p.m. at the Snyder arena.
The other two teams, the Major Novice A and the Minor Atom, both have a 2-0 series lead over their opponents. The Major Novice A team won their first game against Noble King 5-4 in overtime then delivered a 3-0 win the next day at home on Mar. 12. Game three is scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday) at noon at the Snyder arena.
Finally, the Minor Atom team is also up 2-0 in their series against Innisfil with back-to-back 3-2 wins, the first in overtime on the road last Saturday. Game-three goes today (Saturday) in Innisfil, with game-four tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. at the Snyder arena.
The interesting thing about the Minor Atom series against Innisfil is that it is a rematch of the Silverstick Tournament in Newmarket in January. Innisifil eliminated Woolwich in that tournament. Now Woolwich is
looking to return the favour.
In the end though, all four coaches understand the importance of the players realizing just how rare this situation is to have four teams all in the finals the same year.
“I tell them all the time that I played minor hockey for 15 years, and I only won one OMHA final so it doesn’t come by too often,” said John Lunney, head coach of the Minor Bantam A team. “You’re not going to get too many opportunities at this, so you might as well make the best of it.”