LAKE LOUISE – Preparing for gruelling sub-zero temperatures, the first-ever Australian pond hockey team was ready to journey 13,000 kilometres to glide on the natural, glass-like glacier-fed lake ice in the Canadian Rockies.
However, after a small brush with the recent cold snap, the Aussies experienced weather closer to home due to the unseasonably warm temperatures.
As a result of the spring-like weather, they were greeted with a rough, wet surface at Lake Louise.
Despite the unlucky ice conditions, the team from Down Under was still smiling ear-to-ear while playing hockey on the picturesque lake.
The games went fast – going goal-for-goal – to try and beat the ice from turning into a slurry mess.
“It’s not smooth. It’s quite rough and rustic, so it’s quite hard on the legs and we don't have the youngest legs going around,” said Stephanie Boxall, the team’s only woman and former team captain of the Australian women’s hockey team. “That’s been a bit of a challenge and we have become quite tired from playing on it.”
The Canberra Senators is an old-timer recreation hockey club and is the oldest ice hockey team from Australia’s capital. They are a 12-member squad with three Aussies and nine Canadian expatriates, with an average team age of 60 and the oldest being 67 and youngest 51.
They call themselves the first Australian pond hockey team, as Australians can’t play true pond hockey back home.
“There’s no such thing as pond hockey in Australia,” said Bill Kourelakos, team member and manager.
“The only way you can have outdoor ice in Australia is to use glycol, so you’ve got to run piping underneath the surface and run glycol through it and freeze the glycol and then put the water on top and that’s how they make outdoor ice.”
The team started its 15-day trip by walking through -20 Celsius to the Saddledome to watch the Calgary Flames take on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Following that NHL experience, they made their way north to Red Deer and then Edmonton where they played in the University of Alberta alumni tournament and to watch more NHL games.
“I thought when we came here that we might experience a couple of blowouts in terms of, you know, 20 to nothing sort of scores, which is what happens to some Australian teams when they come to Canada,” said Kourelakos. “We haven't been blown out, so we’ve held our own. All the games have been closed to par.”
Back home the team plays in one of Canberra’s oldest ice rinks with variable ice conditions, so players have been getting used to the quality of Canadian ice.
“The ice here is much, much better. And what we’ve noticed is the puck is moving a lot faster than we’re used to because we’re used to soft ice and the ice here is quite hard, so the puck is outpacing us a little bit more than we’re used to,” said Kourelakos. “But we’re getting used to this ice surface here.”
Although they played in traditional rinks, the trip was centred around playing on lake ice in Jasper and Lake Louise. Following their time in Banff National Park, they will be back on the road to close out the trip in Invermere, B.C.
“It’s a little bit surreal coming here and then seeing it in the flesh,” said Boxall.
“I just can’t stop looking at the mountains.”