I will be uploading a daily(ish) blog during my 3 week stay in Australia, and this trip is made possible by SportsHosts. The following is a part of this series. You can also find this on the SportsHosts blog here!
My time in Melbourne is flying by! Every day has felt like a whirlwind of adventure. People here keep telling me what a great sports city Melbourne is, and I have been lucky enough to experience that first hand. My first few days here were full of very Australian sports, but my next stop was something that people don’t typically associate with Australia – Winter Sports.
Melbourne is home to the O’Brien Group Arena, which is a state of the art ice sports and entertainment arena. It is actually the busiest public skating rink in the world. Yes, you read that correctly. It contains two Olympic-sized ice rinks, and is home to the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia. From hockey to curling, ice sports have their home here.
I had the chance to talk to several of Australia’s ice and snow sport athletes, and even got to gear up and play some hockey with the local hockey team. Every player I talked to expressed how impressive and important this facility is to the growth and development of winter sports in Australia.
One common theme among the winter athletes is that they have to travel to other countries (mostly to the US) to train. I had the opportunity to speak with high level Australian figure skaters and snow athletes, and while they call Australia home, they spend most of their time training outside of the country. This definitely adds some extra stress to the process of training, but the love they have for their sports means that nothing will stop them. Another interesting theme was how each person got into winter sports here. Everyone expressed a similar kind of story that “it was pure luck,” or “a happy accident.” The challenges they face here are definitely different than many other areas in the world.
Learning about ice hockey in Australia was special for me as hockey is my favorite sport. Here, they call it ice hockey (so all my NHL fans calm down for me calling it ice hockey). When they refer to “hockey” in Australia, they are talking about field hockey. The AIHL (Australian Ice Hockey League) is the top level ice hockey league in Australia, and the players are semi-professionals. The league dates back to 2000, but the history of ice hockey is Australia goes back over 100 years. In fact, the trophy they play for in the AIHL (the Goodall Cup) is third only in age to the Stanley Cup and the Allan Cup. The O’brien Group Arena is home to two teams from the AIHL: the Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs.
I had a chance to meet and talk with players and coaches from both the Ice and Mustangs. One thing I was not expecting is that the teams have both domestic and expat players. Hockey in Australia has come a long way since the AIHL started, and is definitely gaining a lot of popularity. In fact, many people I have spoken to here actually follow the NHL in some capacity. For the players, they are out there because they love the sport and want to see it grow. The talent pool is continuing to develop with some Australians receiving looks from the NHL. There is currently one Australian player who is with the Washington Capitals AHL team. I was impressed while watching them practice; I did not expect the speed and intensity to be at such a high level. Hockey in Australian is definitely competitive and entertaining.
My night ended with me gearing up (and I mean get fully suited up), and getting on the ice with some of the players. I had a chance to get on the ice with the Men’s National Team’s captain, Lliam Webster. I have played full contact sports before, and was hoping to get to experience some full contact hockey here. They were kind enough to let me have a go at checking them (and even pretending like I was tough enough to hit them with enough force to knock them over). Definitely a fun way to end the evening!
My time in Melbourne is winding down, and have fallen in love with the culture and craze for sports. On one of my first nights here, I got the vibe that there was something for everyone here. Visiting the O’Brien Group Arena and talking with winter athletes further proves my initial gut instinct. I only wish is that I had just a little more time to spend in this city.