Reality Check: Travels in the Australian Ice Hockey League – a new book by Almanacker Will Brodie


Will Brodie has been a tremendous supporter of The Footy Almanac. 

On Saturday evening, Will launches his self-published book; Reality Check: Travels in the Australian Ice Hockey League. It is a great read and we believe it deserves widespread support.

Reality Check is being launched this Saturday evening at 7:00pm at Docklands Icehouse in Melbourne and will have players and staff of Melbourne’s Ice Hockey adversaries; the Melbourne Ice and the Melbourne Mustangs in attendance to help launch the book.

Will explains what the book is about below and we’ve also been given an exclusive sneak-peek at an extract of the book, so please be sure to read through.

If you have the time, get down to Docklands Icehouse and get behind Reality Check: Travels in the Australian Ice Hockey League. 

The Footy Almanac team.




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By Will Brodie:

Yes, there is ice hockey in Australia. There’s a fragile but thriving national league and my book Reality Check: Travels in the Australian Ice Hockey League chronicles a year in the AIHL, where dedicated locals and adventurous internationals train and play like professionals, but no-one gets paid.

I spent a year visiting the quirky outposts of this unique hockey backwater, making three trips each with arch-rivals Melbourne Mustangs and Melbourne Ice.

Australian ice hockey is intense but informal, exhilarating but irreverent. It thrives on grassroots improvisation yet utilises social media savvy to expand its national audience. In 2014, the passion of this community saw a disbanded team reborn in a week and delivered a dramatic finals series followed like never before.

Sick of drug scandals, match-fixing, and contract cynicism? Reality Check showcases a thrilling, fierce sport featuring people who play for love of team and the game itself. And they all go to work Monday morning.

Reality Check  is about how sport should be fun and it can still be inspiring.


Purchase a copy of the book through AMAZON and visit Will’s FACEBOOK PAGE to show your support for his work.


Enjoy this extract from Will’s book.


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Friday 28 March 2014

In Melbourne, a sporting town, everything is defined by footy, and compared to it. ‘Footy’ means Australian Rules Football, the code unique to Australia, and most followed in its southern states. Conversation is rarely too far from the game, even if it is to criticise the sport. It dominates the way the NFL now rules American sport.

That cultural ubiquity is a crucial missing element for new Ice coach Brent Laver. It was a realisation he came to in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. “I remember sitting in a bar at Red Deer and I’m talking to a 75-year-old guy who’s telling me the breakout which he thinks works best, that sort of thing, it was an incredible time.” Laver discussed the minutiae of the game with this ‘hockey god’ as part of a “hockey sabbatical” he undertook after his wife’s employer extended a North American trip. “I felt like I went to uni in hockey … When you’re just immersed in the culture, you run into someone at the supermarket and she sees you’ve got a Calgary hat on and you end up talking about the Flames.”

Most footy fans enjoy hockey when they see it live, and many hockey players have grappled with both games. Brent was one of them. He played representative hockey as a junior at the same time he was forging a career as a professional footballer, one step below and a lot of income away from the highly professional Australian Football League. He stepped away from hockey at 30 when his son was born, and returned to the sport, like me, only in recent years, by chance, after running into an old team-mate who urged him to take in an AIHL game at the newly opened Icehouse. “And we’ve walked in … I think we both just stopped and went ‘Holy Shit!’ and we just looked around and had big smiles on our faces. The standard, the intensity, the vibe … we just couldn’t believe it. As kids who grew up on promises of new rinks it was just like walking into hockey heaven for a Melbourne kid, it was amazing.”

Brent believes that “things follow in a progression for a reason”. As soon as he saw AIHL hockey at the Icehouse, he wanted to be involved. Initially, he was a supporter and sponsor. Then he met Ice coach Paul ‘Jaffa’ Watson, who had coached the Victorian junior state team when Brent was captain. Brent says he still uses ‘Jaffaisms’ in his business life. “He’s just such a quality human being,” he says of Jaffa, who won three consecutive AIHL titles with Melbourne Ice. That led him further into the inner ranks, and his expertise was sought by Ice as an assistant coach midway through 2013.

When then coach Sandy Gardner was not reappointed, Brent was named Ice coach, four years after returning from the hockey wilderness. The similarity with rival Brad Vigon is undeniable. Both mentors are enthusiastic and gregarious. They are also both concerned with more than wins and losses. And they are humble. Brent says he has a lot to learn and he refuses to accept that he was an ‘elite’ talent as a junior. “Within our little fishbowl, maybe in the upper end … I played as high as I could here as a younger guy.” He played senior hockey at 17, but says he probably wasn’t good enough to play for Australia by his mid-20s.

He coached hockey and footy at junior level as a relatively young man. But most of his confidence as a coach comes from his ability as a “man manager”. And he honed those skills at work, not play. “I started a business with my cousin when I was pretty much out of school. I’ve never really had a boss. I’ve never had a job interview. So I was lucky enough to learn a lot of real life lessons from the building of a business. What I do on a Tuesday and a Thursday and a weekend with hockey is so closely aligned to what I do at work; I’m pretty lucky in that sense.” The crossover between life and sport goes both ways. Brent has used counsellors Leading Teams, most known for their work with AFL clubs, in his business. And he has used the sports psychologist from Hawthorn, the 2013 AFL premiers, to devise the pre-season sessions that helped Melbourne Ice players produce the “core values and behaviours” that will govern their 2014 season. “I didn’t want it to be something that we gave them. It needed to be something that they owned, especially with this the group in a real state of flux. You’ve got your guys getting to the top end, you’ve got your young guys coming up through and there’s this middle section that’s not really there.”

Brent’s half-season as an assistant coach last year gave him an insight into the effects of Ice’s success on its younger players. He says when current stalwarts Lliam Webster and Tommy Powell were learning their trade as kids in the Ice team, “there were no expectations”. “They were playing at Oakleigh. If they had a win it was outstanding, if they had a loss it was status quo. If they missed a pass, there weren’t six, seven hundred people staring at them. There was no-one walking around with a Melbourne Ice hoodie or hat on, and that’s the environment we’re now expecting these guys to come up through.” This scrutiny was “tying up the self-esteem” of some young players, he says. “It’s almost frightening for them to make a mistake. We’re trying to have a real emphasis on turning out good citizens that can go out and use the experiences that they’re having at Melbourne Ice. The ultimate goal in an amateur sport apart from winning is that your people end up being really good human beings. Still chase your dream but be very much aware of what is going on around you.” Brent has seen too many mates who put everything into hockey, got to 30 and realised: “I’m not in the NHL, I’m not earning a pay packet, what am I going to do now?”

Brent says he has a dialogue with his opposite number Brad Vigon at the Mustangs. “We both understand there is a bigger picture. We need the Melbourne Mustangs to be strong. The Mustangs need Melbourne Ice to be strong.” He agrees with Brad that local goalies need support and says Ice had planned to start a local before his wanderlust intervened. Brent vows he will play three lines all year, as the Mustangs do, the third consisting of younger players. “They will be given a chance to learn and grow.”

Brent is not just keen to develop his players. The plan is for his young New Zealand goalie Jaden Pine-Murphy to go to a Swedish club at the end of the season. That club will send a coach in exchange. “In this state and in this country in a lot of areas the players are ahead of the coaches.” Brent is looking forward to “up-skilling” by watching and listening to a more experienced coach, and getting reviews and critical analysis of his own work.

Brent is striving to improve his hockey knowledge, seeking mentors, poring over game tapes. But he is confident his ‘man management’ delivers values that his club cherishes. He will reward effort, not results, as part of the club’s key objectives. Before having coached an AIHL game, he says he will be “forever indebted” to the club and its players for the support they have shown him and the effort they have put in. “The people that give back you just can’t do enough for them. If we can make you a better person it’s worth 20 Goodall Cups.”


  1. Neil Anderson says

    I would like to endorse Will Brodie as a friend of the Almanac.
    Will wrote a story for The Age after he attended the 2012 book-launch. It can be read from the Almanac archives dated 15th December 2012.
    He interviewed me because we were first to arrive. I was a bit eager to meet the Almanackers for the first time and didn’t know the rule about being fashionably late.
    There is a series of photos provided by Yvette ( she does only need one name ) and lots of good comments from other Almanackers.
    A fine piece of writing from Will, especially when he knocked about ten years off my age.

  2. Wayne Ball says

    I used to watch the Ice Dogs at the Blacktown Ice Rink, which has since been demolished. The Dogs play out of the Liverpool Catholic Club now.

    Decent rinks at Baulkham Hills and Erina are no longer used for the AIHL, due to some dispute with the rinks owners. The AIHL has gone on in leaps and bounds.

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