*1970s: Girls hockey comes to the area with the establishment of the Saltfleet Women’s Hockey Association (SWHA) in 1973. In its maiden season, two teams take to the ice: Hayes Bears, named after a local trucking company, and P-Wee’s Pizza Queens. The teams practice on Wednesdays before playing each other every Friday night. The association renames its teams the Sabres the following year.
Around the same time, Saltfleet Township amalgamates with the municipality of Stoney Creek, and by 1978 the new community had its letters patent, granting it city status. The SWHA rechristens itself the Stoney Creek Girls Hockey Association (SCGHA).
*1980s: It’s the era of boom boxes and breakdancing, and kids in Stoney Creek spend more time with their Rainbow Brites and Rubik’s Cubes than with hockey sticks. For the SCGHA, the 1980s would be about promoting growth, as it is estimated about only 125 skaters called the organization home. One or two house league teams make the rounds against other area competition. But before the decade is over, the SCGHA will have its first competitive teams donning the Sabres crest.
The SCGHA also launches its Sweetheart Tournament, not only to welcome teams to the community for the first time, but also to raise funds for the still-growing organization.
*1990s: As the membership grows, so too does the number of competitive teams iced by the SCGHA. The teams move up the ranks: B to A to AA. By the turn of the century, the program is ready for more Sabres.
*2000-06: The SCGHA welcomes a new addition to the family. Seeing no Intermediate AA team in the area, Diane Boles approaches two members of the SCGHA about starting a program.
“They bought one set of sweaters, I bought the other set of sweaters, and that’s it,” says Boles, the team’s former head coach.
Two years later the Midget Sabres are born. The SCGHA hadn’t had a Midget team since the late 1990s and wanted to create a team that would allow players to grow within the program. More than four dozen players, including Elaine Chuli, now a sophomore goaltender at the University of Connecticut, have graduated from the Midget to the Intermediate team. The Midget team has gone on to win four medals (three silver and one bronze) at OWHA provincials.
It took one season for Sabres players to start being recognized at the national level. Terri Ryerson, Erin Toth and Meghan Weedon, along with coach Boles, represented Ontario Blue at the 2001 National Women’s Under-18 Championship. When the season ends, seven Sabres have secured either CIS or NCAA scholarships.
In 2003 the SCGHA hosts its first Junior Showcase Tournament; in 2004, its first Midget Showcase Tournament. Recognized as fielding one of the strongest fields and attracting scouts from the top university programs, the tournaments draw teams from across Canada and the United States.
*2007-10: The Intermediate Sabres win their first OWHA championship in 2007, and the organization’s reputation for icing competitive teams and developing strong players starts to spread. The Sabres attracts girls not only from the Golden Horseshoe but also from across Canada. Jessica Wong grew up in Nova Scotia but had moved west to the Warner Hockey School in Alberta. After her Grade 10 year, she was looking for a change and a chance to play in the PWHL.
“I heard about Diane Boles and I wanted to play the best hockey I could,” says Wong. “My dad made a few calls and talked to different teams. We chose Stoney Creek because we knew it would be the best fit for us. I’m glad I [came here.]”
Wong’s first season may go down as the team’s finest. In 2007-08 the Sabres win the Triple Crown: the PWHL regular season and playoff titles, as well as the OHWA provincial championship. Wong cites that as her most unforgettable memory from Stoney Creek, as does her former teammate, 2014 Olympic gold medallist Brianne Jenner.
“I think my greatest moment was being able to win the Triple Crown because not many teams have that,” says Jenner.
That same season, seven Sabres suit up for three different teams at the National Women’s Under-18 Championship. Later in the year Jenner, Laura Fortino and Brittany Haverstock help Canada’s National Women’s Under-18 Team win a silver medal at the world championship.
*2011-14: The SCGHA is now home to more than 400 skaters and close to 30 teams. It creates an Atom AA team in time for the 2011-12 season. The team has since gone gold, silver, silver at the OWHA provincial championship. The immediate success of the younger generation of Sabres suggests the winning ways of the Midget and Intermediate teams are in good hands.
This year’s Midget AA Sabres win the team’s first Lower Lakes Female Hockey League championship. But at the OWHA provincial championship, the Sabres once again settle for silver.
Now the SCGHA welcomes the best female Midget teams from across the country at the Esso Cup, with the hopes of adding a national championship to its history.
To be continued…