The hockey community at the North Shore Winter Club was happy to provide ice for the Ice Crocs, a visiting team from Australia.
The snow, however – that was Mother Nature’s bonus gift.
The Ice Crocs, one of the most unique hockey teams you’ll meet, is visiting North Vancouver for 10 days this month to get in some training and see the sights of the Lower Mainland before carrying on to the famous Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament next week.
When the Ice Crocs arrived Feb. 3 they were greeted warmly by their billet families from the Winter Club, and coldly by a fresh batch of snow.
“It’s so much better because of the snow,” said Jed Lake, a 12-year-old forward with the team.
“Vancouver is nice, but a bit cold for us,” added 11-year-old goalie Bryce Kitching.
There isn’t much snow where the Ice Crocs come from – the team is based in New South Wales, where it was 40 C on the day they left – and some team members were seeing flakes for the first time in their lives when they got off the plane at Vancouver International Airport. They are, however, hockey crazy, finding a way to develop their skills despite the challenges of growing up in a country without a strong hockey tradition. Some players come from families with Canadian or Russian heritage, while others just happened upon the game in Australia and fell in love, said Ice Crocs manager Querida Faber.
“For some people to train, it actually takes them an hour and 15 minutes to get to an ice rink,” Faber said. “The parents are passionate, but it is driven by the kids because they’ve got to want to travel. To get to any ice rink, you’re lucky if it’s half an hour.”
The Ice Crocs are loving their time here seeing the sights and getting a crash course in what life is like for the young Winter Club players they are billeting with in North Vancouver.
“It’s really good to see the level you can play at if you put in the effort and the commitment to the game,” said Kitching. “Seeing the way they train and play, it’s mesmerizing because they play so smoothly, they play with such skill and commitment and precision. It’s just perfect. The hockey here is really good.”
The Ice Crocs are hitting the ice for daily practices – working with their own coaches as well as guest coaches from the Winter Club – while spending their off-ice time exploring the Lower Mainland, including trips to Grouse Mountain, the Capilano Suspension Bridge and an outing to Monday’s Vancouver Canucks game, a 6-2 win over the Nashville Predators that included appearances by Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Trevor Linden, Stan Smyl and Marcus Naslund for Legends Night, a precursor event to the Sedins getting their numbers retired Feb. 12.
Both Lake and Kitching mentioned that it was the speed of the game that initially drew them to ice hockey growing up in Australia.
“There’s contact, you get to fire pucks at goalies, and you get to dangle,” said Lake with a smile.
“It’s fast, it’s fun,” added Kitching. “I get to have pucks flying at high speeds. It’s just fun all around – you get to meet new people."
The actual hockey they play here and in Quebec may fade from memory, but the experiences they are having on the trip and the friendships they are creating with their host familes will last for a long time, said Faber.
“For many of these kids, it’s their first time away from home,” she said. “They’re loving Vancouver, but they’re loving the hospitality that they’ve been shown by the North Shore Winter Club and also by the billets. … In a couple of year’s time they probably won’t remember the hockey but I think they’ll remember the experiences like visiting the Vancouver billet families and all those things that they’ll keep for a lifetime.”
The trip is also providing the Ice Crocs with a break from the wildfires that ravaged Australia in recent weeks and are still burning in some areas. No one associated with the team lost their homes, but everyone is affected in some way and everyone knows someone who has been hit hard by the fires.
“My husband works with people that their family’s home was burnt down,” said Faber. “There’s always someone that has a connection that has lost everything.”
While they’re here, however, they’re feeling like they are right at home with their new friends, said Faber.
“Vancouver and the country of Canada itself, it’s really nice because you guys are just so open in letting everyone in…. The kids have really enjoyed how much people have just stopped and talked to them and that whole community feel which sometimes in a hustling bustling city of Sydney, to be honest with you, we've lost that. So that side of it's been really, really nice. The enthusiasm shown by Canadians to see us, it's been awesome.”