January 26, 2009

Australia Day

Since it's Australia's national day, I thought I'd post a bit about Australian hockey. Yes, it really exists. And yes, on ice.

Hockey in Australia began in 1904 at H. Newman Reid's ice rink in Adelaide. When the Reid family moved to Melbourne, the game followed, and by 1907 the local skaters felt confident enough to challenge the sailors of the USS Baltimore. They lost, of course, the start of a rich tradition of gutsy defeats for outmatched Aussie teams.

In 1909, proper sticks and pucks were imported from far away Canada, and the game moved towards a standard form, instead of whatever rules worked at the time. Players were also able to throw away the frozen tennis balls which had then been in style. The local version of hockey, somewhere between bandy and Canadian hockey, saw six skaters and the goalie on the ice for each team.

Also in 1909, the Goodall Cup, a regular interstate competition, started up. Victoria won the first time, but New South Wales dominated the series for decades until Victoria started using Canadian and European imports in the 1940s.

In 1960, Australia went to Squaw Valley for the Winter Olympics, which was again gutsy, but perhaps unwise. They racked up the following group results:

Czechoslovakia 18, Australia 1
USA 12, Australia 1

This placed them in the consolation pool, fighting for 7th to 9th places. Things didn't improve much:

Finland 14, Australia 1
Japan 13, Australia 2
Finland 19, Australia 2
Japan 11, Australia 3

The boys found their scoring touch towards the end, clearly, but they haven't been back to the Olympics again.

But after many decades at the lower end of hockey's totem pole, and a series of second place finishes in Division II, Australia found glory in 2008. Hosting the Division II, Group B World Championships, the Australians were not favoured - China was thought to be too good. But in front of sold out crowds at Newcastle's HISS Arena (that's _875 people_), the Australians blitzed the field:

Australia 7, Mexico 1
Australia 5, Spain 3
Australia 4, New Zealand 2
Australia 3, Iceland 0
Australia 1, China 0

In 2009, Australia will face Division I opposition in the tournament in Lithuania. As well as the hosts, there will be Kazakhstan, Slovenia, Japan, and Croatia. My money's on a swift return to Division II.

Happy Australia Day, everyone! Throw some shrimp on the barbie before your morning skate...

2 comments:

  1. I think that is very, very cool. :o)

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  2. Like a Jamaican bobsled team. Unlikely, but wonderful. :)

    ReplyDelete