By: Stephanie Coratti
Mark Woolley may have been skating before he could walk.
The St. Thomas, Ontario native had skates on for the first time at just 18-months old before starting to play organized hockey at the age of four. A fact that wouldn’t surprise many who have seen the 2001-born defenseman dawn the Guelph Storm jersey for just a season and a half, playing and conducting himself well beyond his years.
The quick introduction to the game is thanks to Woolley’s dad Steve, and older brother, Michael.
“It was my dad and my older brother, who played since he was young too, so I think him growing up playing AAA hockey… they both wanted me to get on the ice at a young age,” recently turned 17-year-old Woolley recalled, adding that there was no love lost between the brothers at home. “I was always the goalie for road hockey, getting balls fired at me… [Michael] thought he was a tough guy, so he always tried to teach me how to fight when I was younger. We used to do buckets and gloves in the basement.”
In addition to the former 2017 Storm third round pick’s goaltending stints, playing up front came before manning the blueline for Woolley.
“When I moved up to AAA, my coach put me on defense just because of my size and shot but I used to play forward when I was younger,” the now six-foot-two, 202-pound defenseman said. “[Defense] grew on me obviously… I liked forward just because scoring’s fun, but then defense has it’s perks too.”
Off the ice, another recent transition in moving away from home stands as Woolley’s biggest challenge to date – with an added element unique to the Storm sophomore.
“Moving away from home at a young age was tough obviously, but I think you learn to adapt and with me, just being a diabetic, I think that’s one more thing that adds on to it,” Woolley, who was diagnosed as a diabetic at the age of 12, explained. “Having to take care of all that on my own without my parents or being close to my doctors… that’s one thing that’s a bigger challenge for me.”
Does being a diabetic ever affect his ability to play hockey, and just be an athlete?
Oozing maturity, Woolley quickly responded: “Not really – I’ve always looked up to [Max Domi] just because of how he carries himself and how he’s always said it’s just something you have to monitor regularly… it doesn’t affect how you play.”
From handling the day-to-day as a diabetic, to already becoming a pillar on the Storm blueline, maturity strikes across the board for Woolley.
“It was nerve wracking obviously – my first couple of weeks, my first couple of games, but you get used to it… everything comes with time,” Woolley said of his rookie season, adding that off the ice and in school, developing a routine and adjusting was just as important. “You get used to all of it, and it starts to feel like home.”
A home that was made comfortable by former captain and fellow defenseman Garrett McFadden, Woolley offered.
“He was a big guy that I looked up to last year – having all of his experience, and he was a great guy. He was always involving us younger guys on the team,” Woolley said. “If I ever had any questions, I’d always go to him… I think he was a really big part of my rookie year.”
Looking back, though, there is one piece of advice Woolley has for himself.
“Get more involved,” he said, smiling. “I come across as a shy guy sometimes, but they’re your teammates, don’t be shy in the room… get comfortable and have some fun.”
Of course, there is a lot of advice just like that, that surely comes from the foundation Woolley thanks the most.
“The endless time and support they’ve provided me with when I was younger – taking me to practices, games, and all those types of things,” Woolley said of his parents, Steve and Tracy, while also listing off all the coaches he’s worked with, and all the people back home. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”