Quick – think of Australia. What pops into your mind? Beaches? Bikinis? Koalas? The episode of the Simpsons when they visit Down Under and infest the entire country with bullfrogs?

What about hockey?

No, not the “field” or “tonsil” versions. We’re talking about ice hockey – the real thing like we play in Canada.

Knights goalie Kyle Wiseman stops Aussie Thunder forward on a breakaway (Photo: Brian Salpeter)

Yeah, that’s not on my Top 10 list of all things Aussie either.

But lo and behold, not only is ice hockey a real thing in the Land of Oz – there are even a few dozen arenas and a healthy youth program there! Whoda thunkit?

“There are about 200 Peewee kids playing hockey in the whole of Australia and every capital city has an ice rink. Perth has three, Melbourne has two, and Sydney has seven, for starters,” said Australian Thunder coach Dave Ruck, who brought his Peewees to Canada this month.

The Thunder first faced off against the Montreal West/Hampstead Royal Knights before heading up to Quebec City for the provincial capital’s annual international Peewee tournament – widely recognized as the best of its kind in the world.

“The calibre of hockey here in Canada was as was to be expected – very good. In Australia, you have to coach considering all levels from beginners to some experienced players all together, so its’ challenging,” Ruck explained.

“There is also only a small number of coaches in Australia so that too is challenging. But even though the hockey community is very small at home, it’s just as passionate as the home of hockey – Canada!”

The challenge was apparent when the Thunder faced off with the Knights at MoWest’s Legion Rink on February 9. The Knights were 12-0 winners.

“The Aussies had some good skaters, but there was a significant difference in team play and the way they execute on the ice,” explained Knights team manager Brian Salpeter. “The atmosphere that night was just incredible, though. The hockey game was terrific and the evening as a whole felt very special.”

Knights defenceman Jace Lis D’Alessandro had a great time hosting the Aussies.

“Having a team from Australia in our home rink was awesome. Travelling across the world to play hockey was a dream come true for them,” Lis D’Alessandro said.

“It must have been so exciting for them because there is not much hockey in Australia. The kids are not as lucky as us to have rinks walking distance from our house.”

Thunder defenceman Lockie Dwyer agreed.

“I was impressed with how intense the hockey is over here. It’s unbelievable how many kids play in Canada. And I love the hockey shops because they are so big and there is nothing like them in Australia,” Dwyer’s teammate Marcel McGuiness had an amazing time.

“This was very exciting,” he said. “I have dreamed of this ever since my friend came to Canada and played hockey in 2007. It was a dream come true.”

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