Ice Hockey 1.01: Dual citizen


The American novelist and sportswriter Paul Gallico once wrote that ice hockey was “a fast body-contact game played by men with clubs in their hands and knives laced to their feet,” which probably sums up the knowledge that most Australians have about the game.


Even the general concept of frozen sports for Australians begins and ends with Steven Bradbury’s incredible come-from-behind victory at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It’s safe to say that the national interest in speed skating after the event faded almost as quickly as Steven Bradbury’s transition from last place to first.


To some Aussies, ice hockey is a vague concept that might as well be a fictional Hollywood-inspired blood-sport, played by the ‘bad guy’ Russians and the ‘heroic’ Americans. If it didn’t appear at the Winter Olympics every four years, that misconception might be more prevalent.


For me, a dual citizen, Australian-Canadian, ice hockey has always been a part of my world. As is tradition back in Canada, my parents took me ice skating in Melbourne from an early age. We would frequent the Oakleigh ice rink every school holidays and would also go once a month to watch family friends play ice hockey games. To me, this was a normal part of life. Didn’t everybody in Australia go skating? Didn’t everyone’s Canadian relatives send Tim Horton’s ground coffee through the mail? Didn’t everyone get plastic hockey sticks and pucks for Christmas?


As a kid, my favourite movies were the three Mighty Duck films. Anyone familiar with the movies would remember the famous ‘flying V’ or the trick shot known as the ‘Knuckle puck’. This of course led to many hours of a young me imitating the movie’s most famous scenes with a plastic hockey stick and puck in the living room.



Me as a teen in hockey gear.


But I would soon come to understand how different my upbringing was when I was caught soaking my bacon and scrambled eggs in maple syrup at a camp in primary school. I can only imagine how much worse the teasing would have been if they had known the frequency of my maple syrup usage. I won’t go into a long list of my favourite food pairings but let’s say that if the Canadians create a maple syrup IV drip, I will hook it to my veins.


Now don’t get me wrong, I am Australian through and through. I love the MCG, I love meat pies and sausage rolls, and I adore my Western Bulldogs (2016 was probably the best year of my life). I love everything that comes with the place I call home. But for me, ice hockey is how I connect with my family here and back in Canada. At times it almost feels like a bonus that very few people in Australia understand ice hockey because my family are some of the only people that truly understand. When you have 13,500km of land and ocean separating you from your family, you tend to cling to things that make the distance seem insignificant.


Engaging with ice hockey in Australia can be challenging depending on whether that engagement is with the North American NHL or if you just want to see Australians compete at one of the handfuls of ice rinks in Australia. Regardless of the size, the community is a welcoming one.


I do, however, have to make an admission. I don’t play ice hockey.


Ice hockey requires a combination of skills that would be impressive by themselves. Being able to skate forwards and backwards at an advanced level, control a small, fast-moving puck with a stick, as well as put your body in the path of a hard and dangerous object is no small feat. I did try to start playing ice hockey a few years ago. However, my inability to skate backwards had me sent down to the child practice area with a group of eight year-olds. This bruised my ego more than it did my behind as I repeatedly fell over, trying to skate backwards. I gave it up shortly after to save myself from the embarrassment. I vowed to still support from the sidelines, whether for my brother and his team or for my NHL team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, from my couch at home.


The game of ice hockey is fast, brutal, and at times unforgiving. But for me, hockey is more than a game. It’s a community and a culture that I love being a part of. It has some weird quirks, rules, and traditions (which I will dive into). However, it has a special place in the hearts of Canadians, and I hope to instil a little bit of that into you over the next few weeks.




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  1. Love this, James – welcome to the Almanac!

    I look forward to you exploring the cultural impact of hockey on Canada and Canadians – talk about a country that bonds over a sport…

    As an Aussie with a casual interest In the NHL, I’ve always found it fascinating that while I love watching it, I don’t really feel like I truly understand the ebbs and flows of the game the way I understand sports I played or watched more when I was a kid.

    Looking forward to your columns in the coming weeks!

  2. Welcome James. I enjoyed your lively piece. Looking forward to learning a bit more.

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