How Hosting Canada’s National Men’s Para Hockey team in Waterloo Region continues to impact the Woolwich Thrashers sledge hockey team
Anyone who has played hockey knows the benefits of the sport extend beyond the ice.
Far more important than the winners and losers are the life lessons learned through competition and camaraderie. Lessons that are carried on well after the final horn sounds.
No organization exemplifies that notion better than the Woolwich Thrashers sledge hockey program based out of Elmira.
So, when they were granted a special opportunity to host the Canadian national men’s para hockey team and receive much needed funds from doing so, they saw it as a win-win and threw their full support behind it.
As Team Canada held their training camp and three-game exhibition series against the United States in March of 2023 at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, it also provided the organization with the chance to showcase what sport can do for a community.
“When the kids see people like them playing at such a high level, they want to go out and play because they see they can do it too,” Jordan Baker, member of the Thrashers board of directors, said.
“It was a really special thing for our organization to be a part of and see the direct impact. For me personally, it speaks to where these kids can go.”
The money raised, which came in at just over $13,000, helped the Thrashers keep sledge hockey available, and more importantly accessible, for families through the purchase of sleds and equipment. It’s something Baker says is critical despite operating in a deficit each season.
They fully understand the additional costs families that have children with disabilities are already up against. Extra medical expenses and specialty equipment can often times leave little money left over for passions like hockey. It’s a barrier that no child should have to overcome.
But Baker and the Thrashers refuse to accept that obstacle and search for every fundraising and grant option to keep kids in the game at an affordable price.
“Things like this event really help us,” Baker said.
“It goes into our resources and also helps us offset the cost of registration for players.”
Allister Scorgie, director of sport hosting at Explore Waterloo Region, and his team played an integral role in helping the Thrashers land the event.
Scorgie says every event the Sport Hosting Office hosts or sponsors is required to have some sort of legacy for the community. In this case, it centred around community programming.
“Cost to participate is a huge barrier for all sports and all athletes but is particularly felt by para athletes who are entirely limited in their ability to play because of equipment needs,” Scorgie said.
“It’s an added cost for young athletes, parents and high performance athletes.”
By helping secure the funds, the Sport Hosting Office was able to ensure a tangible difference was made.
“There is a significant and profound impact on local athletes who now have increased opportunities to play and reduced costs to do so,” he said.
“This can be the difference between a para-athlete who never gets into a sport at all and someone who becomes a Paralympic athlete competing for Canada on a world stage.”
Aside from impacting their own experiences on the ice, players and their families were eager to volunteer and be a part of something special, as getting to watch athletes at the highest of levels isn’t something that comes around every day. It was such a success that each of the three games saw a sellout crowd, Baker says.
Autograph sessions and meet and greets with their heroes followed the games, further reinforcing the the power of sport.
As important as the financial aspect and sheer thrill was to the Thrashers, the awareness that came with it is key to their success and sustainability.
“It helped us build awareness around para sport with strong marketing and community support,” Baker said.
“If kids are unable to play conventional hockey, there’s really good opportunities for them to get involved still. This is a key part of hockey culture in Canada.”
And then there’s the personal development that takes place every season, which Baker sees daily out on the ice, in the dressing room and throughout the area.
The sport gives athletes the chance to find a sense of belonging through the pursuit of a common goal.
“It’s a matter of getting them to grow not just in terms of playing hockey but in terms of independence and being who they want to be and not being defined in any sort of way,” Baker said.
“That’s a key part of how we operate, it’s much more than just a sport. There’s individual growth and team growth that happens. It’s a good opportunity to get involved in a community of loving people that are supportive of one another. It allows them to be a part of something and make friends.”