Henke Rink. Up and down the ice they go.
On summer’s doorstep in Melbourne, Australia the Melbourne Ice Women’s professional hockey team practice – and you feel as if you’re anywhere but Australia.
Stick saves, hard shots, fast skating – the defending McKowen Cup champions are coming off an opening weekend sweep of the Brisbane Goannas. After a punishing 8-1 win in the season opener, the Ice needed to rally late in game two for a narrow 4-3 victory.
Dotting the rinkside seats on this Tuesday night are various Melbourne hockey heads. Some players themselves, others fans, others god only knows. What they all have in common however is a pure and basic love for hockey that one does not expect to find in a country known for reefs, kangaroos and a unique brand of football with it’s own set of rules.
Yet here they are. After work they gather together. Men and women who share an unmistakable accent, and a desire for a harder wrist shot.
The passion these souls have for the game is nothing short of remarkable. They watch Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins games online via NHL Gamecenter. They spend thousands of dollars to play in recreational leagues so popular that the governing bodies have been forced to implement limits on their participation. Men can only play in the summer OR winter season because there simply aren’t enough teams to allow them to play both.
Women on the other hand, are allowed to play in both seasons if they so desire in an effort to grow the game among the fairer sex. But of course these girls are hockey girls, and there is nothing fairer about them. They’d sit out one of the two seasons rather than see a more skilled male be denied a roster spot.
There may not be an indigenous hockey culture here yet. But goddamn these guys get it.
What a welcome surprise for a Bostonian who’s walkabout into the hockey culture of Oz came with doubts and a genuine lack of expectations – good or bad.
It’s the other side of the planet, but it’s the same game. The same zamboni, the same rubber disk and the same blend of balance, skill, strength and attitude that you’d find in Detroit, Vancouver or Colorado.
What’s different is the pioneering nature of the skaters down here. A self-described “addiction” drives these men and women to pour all of their free time and money into frozen water. In a country that’s largely impervious to the language of hockey, these guys speak it fluently.
Nothing says hockey like a girl who’s forgotten her sports bra and laughs as she wears her expensive French lingerie to practice instead. It just doesn’t get any more hockey than that.
And while the skating isn’t perfect and the shots don’t get lifted too far off the ice, the game is here. It’s a crawling infant that drinks beer and eats steak. And before long, it’ll be strutting around shitting on the floor and telling you to pick it up.
It’s hockey in Australia – in the summer. And it’s bloody awesome to find.