SYDNEY – There's no such thing as a friendly game when players from the U.S. and Canada face-off – even when they're playing half a world away in Sydney, Australia.
There were plenty of battles and goals to please the sell-out crowd at the Allphones Arena, as the Canadians won the deciding game three of a series of exhibition games, the International Ice Hockey Australian Tour, by a score of 9-6 to win the Douglas Webber Cup.
The teams were comprised of NHL, AHL, ECHL and European-based players including Erik Condra, Kyle Quincey, Taylor Beck and the Colorado Avalanche's Ryan Wilson, who gave the 21,000 passionate Aussie fans a quality exhibition of hockey. Zenon Konopka, who captained the American selection, was forced to miss game three with a leg injury.
The attendance was the biggest ever for a sporting event in the arena.
The game was the perfect introduction to new Aussie fans, who were thrilled by the heavy slapshots and stick-handling of the players, as well as the agility and reactions of goalies Jimmy Spratt and Andrew D'Agositini.
The Canadians jumped out to an early 4-1 first-period lead, and held a comfortable 7-2 advantage after the second period. But the Americans clawed their way back and forced a pulsating final five minutes, but were unable to make up the difference.
Ex-NHLer Kerry Goulet organised the tour, which saw the teams split the opening two games in Melbourne, before heading north to Sydney for the deciding game.
“We’re sowing the seeds of hockey in this count,” said Goulet. “We’ve had great crowds and the response has been fantastic.”
Konopka was also pleased with the fan turnout: “At first I was surprised, but then you realise everyone here are sports enthusiasts, and the love of sport and passion is great.”
Despite the all-star-game feel to the games, as with any USA-Canada meeting, the series has had its fair share of spite.
“There is a rivalry,” Konopka said. “Two of our guys broke their hands and couple lost a few teeth. It got intense rather quickly, but that’s Canada versus U.S.!”
The players also had a chance to unwind after tough seasons in their respective leagues, and toured the sights of Sydney and Melbourne.
“We’ve been received very well,” said Quincey. “It’s been a good surprise to see 20,000 people show up.”
Kevin Harvey, brother of ex-NHLer Todd, echoed his teammates comments: “We’ve got to see two of the best cities in Australia and the hospitality has been great.
“People have treated us unreal and you walk down the street and people know who we are – it’s amazing.
“The support for the tour has been tremendous, not only for us, but it will hopefully help build the game of hockey.”
But the tour had another purpose. As Director of stopconcussions.com, Goulet was helping to raise awareness for brain injuries in sport, whether it be hockey or popular Aussie sports such as rugby and Australian Rules Football.
“We have to really understand the causes of brain injuries,” said Goulet, who founded the charity with former Philadelphia Flyers captain and concussion victim, Keith Primeau.
“We’ve be trained to play through the pain, win at all costs, if it ain’t broke you play – and with this injury you can't.
“People need to understand, a concussion is only a sexy word for brain injury. The unfortunate part is there are two different stigmas attached to concussed and brain injured,” he said.
“I think we were blind to the real effects of concussion until Sidney Crosby was sidelined with a major head injury. We knew about those injuries but we’d sweep it under the rug.”
“We've got to see the signs and symptoms, and all sports will be safer to play.”
Two selects teams with players from Canada and the U.S. faced off for exhibition games in Melbourne and Sydney. Photo: Douglas Webber Group