It was a close battle in the inaugural High School Sledge Hockey Challenge at the Vale Centre on Friday, but in the end, Westlane Secondary skated away with the hardware, winning 2-1 over Port Colborne High.
Each team had a bit of a helping hand, thanks to some Team Canada pros who bulked up the lineups on each time.
“Sledge hockey has given me, and people like me, the opportunity to experience life in a new and exciting way,” said Kevin Rempel, a member of Team Canada’s sledge hockey team from 2010 to 2015. Rempel laced up for Westlane, and before the game he told the players sledge hockey is a game he’s seen people warm up to quickly. “I’ve never met a hockey fan who didn’t also enjoy watching sledge hockey.”
Ryan Leyte, who was one of the many people taking in the game, said he’s watched a lot of sledge hockey and it offers the same thrills as any other version of the game.
“I don’t care if it’s men’s hockey, girl’s hockey, or sledge hockey, it’s a good game either way,” said Leyte.
The sledge hockey showdown in Port Colborne also included a special guest referee, Ron MacLean, one half of the long-running Coach's Corner duo. Before dropping the puck, he treated players to some inspirational words of wisdom, and a few choice anecdotes from his years spent alongside Don Cherry.
This isn’t MacLean’s first time suiting up as a referee, nor was it even his first time officiating a game in town.
“When I was younger I ref’d games here in Niagara all the time, in Thorold and Port Colborne and Fort Erie,” said MacLean.
While he’s been on the ice plenty to ref games in Port Colborne over the years, it was his first time checking out the new Vale Centre, which was renovated a few years ago to make both rinks accessible and for sledge hockey matches. MacLean said it was a great arena to ref in. He also had some help on the blue-line from local ref Matt Martel. It turns out MacLean even ref’d games back in the day with Matt’s father, Shawn.
On the ice, it was Rempel scoring both Westlane goals thanks to an assists from Westlane winger Alex Luey.