I can’t vouch for the state of hockey in Australia. Its men’s program is, after all, ranked 34th by the International Ice Hockey Federation, tucked just behind powerhouses Mexico and Israel.
But there are signs of shinny positivity emanating from the land down under.
A couple weeks ago, an Aussie-bred player was drafted by an NHL team for the first time ever when the Capitals spent the 98th overall selection on Nathan Walker. The 5-foot-10, 20-year-old left winger was actually born in Wales, but grew up in Sydney.
He moved with his family at age 13 to the Czech Republic to pursue his hockey dream and it paid off when the Caps invited him to training camp last year and officially brought him into their family June 28. Walker played last year in Hershey after signing with the AHL club.
The locals, meantime, get their fix of in-person action via the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League. The eight-team loop features a mixture of homegrown talent and imports on each roster and is in the middle of its 2014 winter season.
If you need a fix of live hockey right now, some of the contests are streamed. The league also negotiated a game of the week deal with Fox Sports for this season, with the network airing the contests nationally.
The top scorer this season is the CBR Brave’s Stephen Blunden, a native of Gloucester, Ont., whose resume includes four years in the OHL (Belleville and Ottawa) and four seasons in the CIS (University of Ottawa). In recent years, former NHLers such as Steve McKenna, Rob Zamuner and Mel Anglestad (the only player to wear No. 69 in an NHL game) have appeared in AIHL contests.
The Brave, meantime, deserve credit for their valiant marketing efforts. A team that was assembled in less than two weeks after its predecessor, the Canberra Knights folded, the Brave have produced a handful of fun and engaging videos that belie their semi-pro status.
In this one, the wives and girlfriends peel back the curtain on their partners in a way you’d never see at the NHL level.
The production values on this training exercise video resemble a movie trailer.
And while this one might contain a little bit too much information, it scores marks for effort. And bravery.