Teaching hockey Down Under
by Lucas Aykroyd|17 APR 2020
U.S. stars Haley Skarupa (left), Hannah Brandt (right) and Hilary Knight, who won Olympic gold together in 2018, taught youngsters hockey in Australia in the summer of 2019.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
What did you do on your last summer vacation? For Hannah Brandt, Hilary Knight, and Haley Skarupa, it involved teaching hockey skills to eager youngsters in an unusual destination: Australia.

The three star forwards, who helped the U.S. win its first Olympic women’s hockey gold medal in 20 years in PyeongChang, got invited to coach at Global Edge Training’s five-day hockey camp in Melbourne in July. It was open to skaters and goalies, both girls and boys, aged seven to 15.

IIHF.com touched base with Brandt and Skarupa about their experience Down Under before the coronavirus pandemic changed daily life.
“It worked out with our schedules and we got to go with a fun group,” said Brandt, a four-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist with the University of Minnesota who also has three Women’s Worlds gold medal. “We had a lot of fun. It was a cool experience just to be able to bring hockey to a different part of the world, where I’d never think I’d be able to make an impact.”

The daily Global Edge Training program kicked off with an hour and a half of on-ice training at the O’Brien Icehouse. Then came off-ice work on strength and conditioning, plus shooting practice. After lunch, the focus shifted to nutrition, stretching, and other self-care topics. Finally, it was back to the rink for another hour.

There is lots of work to be done in the big picture, given that Australia currently sits 29th in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking.

“It was awesome,” said Skarupa, another three-time Women’s Worlds gold medalist who set the U18 single-tournament goals record in 2012 (11). “It was a really cool experience to be able to see kids playing hockey out there and improving every single day. We obviously loved being in Australia coaching. What a cool opportunity! So we had a blast.”
At the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division II Group A tournament in Dumfries, Scotland, Australia was relegated with five straight losses. Despite getting a team-leading five points from the Melbourne Ice’s Kristelle van der Wolf, the third-highest scorer in Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League history, the Aussies couldn’t rebound after a crucial early 4-2 loss to DPR Korea.

So Brandt, Knight, and Skarupa may have helped to sow the seeds for future IIHF success. 

“The kids were really good, actually,” said Skarupa, who joined the Washington Capitals organization as a youth hockey ambassador in September. “We had no expectations, but some of them were more beginners and some of them, you could tell they had a pretty advanced skill level. So it was really exciting to see people taking it up for the first time and people who had been playing for a while.”

“They put a lot of emphasis on just having fun and keeping girls in hockey,” Brandt added. “That was what we focused on. I just think it was pretty cool for them to have us over there, just because they don't get a lot of U.S. players that come over and train them, especially females.”

Away from the rink, the three long-time friends enjoyed touring Melbourne, which Skarupa likened to a “more spread-out Chicago.” They took a helicopter ride around the Twelve Apostles, the famous oceanfront limestone stacks.
Of course, inquiring minds also want to know: did they spot Australia’s national animal?

“We did see some kangaroos,” Brandt said with a smile. “We saw some sleeping on the side of the road, right in the ditch. And we also went to a kangaroo sanctuary. So we got to see a bunch of them!”

It’s difficult to make future plans right now, but when IIHF.com chatted with the American hockey stars, it was evident they were open to the idea of making the 16-hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne again.

“I’d be happy to go back,” said Brandt. “It obviously takes a lot of time out of your summer and we don't have a ton of time, especially with training. So it’s just balancing all of that. But I’d definitely be interested in going back if the opportunity presented itself.”

Naturally, hockey fans around the world would be in favour too, since it would mean the current international health crisis that has shut sports down would be over. The IIHF’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend (October) and Global Girls’ Game (February) illustrate that growing this sport is a year-round endeavor, and private efforts like this trip Down Under are an important piece of the puzzle too.