The 2017 Ice Hockey Classic was held in Sydney on June 17th at Qudos Bank Arena, sponsored by burger chain Hungry Jack’s. This year’s roster brought back newly signed San Jose Shark, Brandon Bollig, Adam Cracknell (now of the Dallas Stars), and included TJ Brennan, Mike Commodore, Ben Harpur, NHL legends Tiger Williams and Darryl Sittler as Team USA and Canada’s coaches respectively, and surprise guest Yvon Barrette, who played rookie goaltender Denis Lemieux in 1977’s Slapshot.

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Third period faceoff in Team USA’s defensive zone (via Danielle Gersbach)

Early on in the game, Colin Blackwell, a player for Team USA, caught a nasty high stick to the face, resulting in bloodied ice, being escorted off the ice and taken to the hospital. His injuries were not disclosed but it was believed to be a broken nose and possible loss of teeth. During the second period intermission, prominent Australian Rugby League players came out onto the ice for a quick and fun game, proving to be hilarious when it was evident that none of them knew how to skate or play hockey. The game’s outcome was Canada winning 8-5 to USA despite Brandon Bollig scoring a natural hat trick. The highlight reel can be found here.

Post game, I was able to get onto the ice to speak with some of the players and guests. (*Some quotes have been edited for clarity.)

 

Brandon Bollig (San Jose Sharks)

Danii: You were here last year, what made you want to come back and what does this game mean to you?

B: “Well, not only is it a fun time and a good cause, but you know, just seeing the passion that the fans here in Australia bring to the rink and come and support us. It’s so much fun, it’s a no brainer to come back. There’s so many good things about it, not to mention you get to experience a cool country like this.”

So you were actually sent down to Stockton this season, how was that?

B: “It was good! You know, obviously there’s plenty of ups and downs in a career. I went down there, had a good year, and its tough to complain when you’re playing professional hockey so there’s always good things to come out of any circumstance, so I’m so happy with it.”

Alright, so finally: MVP for Team USA. How does that feel?

B: “It’s great! You know, it’s a good feeling. I don’t score too many goals in the regular season, so being able to come here and get a couple is definitely a good feeling and hopefully there’s more to come.”

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Brandon Bollig and girlfriend Dannah Lakin stop for a bite on the way to Melbourne, 2016 (via http://www.facebook.com/icehockeyclassictours)

 

Adam Cracknell (Dallas Stars)

Danii: Adam, you’re also here for the second year in a row. How does it feel coming back and what does the game mean to you?

A: “It’s a great opportunity to see other parts of the world, but also raise awareness for concussion and head injury and, you know, it happens in our sport a lot and other sports and daily lives, and we also want to promote the game of hockey for the fans down here. It was a great turnout tonight, you all seem to care about hockey and have fun with it so hopefully we raise a lot of awareness and raise money for funding. Keep helping the research ‘cause we all have friends in the sport and in our lives that have suffered concussions, so we want them to get the help they need.”

Okay, so I couldn’t help but notice that your fanbase has significantly risen since your trade to Dallas. What would you attribute that to?

A: “I just think that having a good season and, you know, the fans are great in Dallas. I had a bit of a personality on the camera and stuff like that and people seem to like you being yourself, so it was a great opportunity to find a home and continue this on for next season.”

So how is it different to the Oilers in terms of the organization?

A: “I think there’s no difference. I was only there for 20 games, but with the rise of Connor McDavid and the changes they made, they’ve made strong strides and watching them in playoffs, they’re becoming more of a powerful team. They’re on the rise just like the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re a hard team to play against, and any of those other teams that have struggled in the past, I think they’re making a real name for themselves.”

Ken Hitchcock was just named head coach in Dallas. What have your experiences been with him?

A: “Yeah I played for Ken Hitchcock for three years in St. Louis, actually, and it’s nice to have a coach around to be familiar with. He understands me and knows what kind of role I can play, so it’s something I’m really looking forward to. It’s gonna be a different season for a lot of guys, but at the end of the day, we’re all here to win a championship and I think he’s the guy that can do that for us.”

team usa canada
Team USA and Team Canada post game photo (via Danielle Gersbach)

 

Stephane Matteau (Ambassador)

Danii: So what does it mean for you to be able to come down to Australia to support an event like this?

S: “It means the world to me and I’ve never been to this part of the world, and I travel a lot in my life, but never been to Australia. I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it was going to be a beautiful country but I never expected the people to come in and, you know, thousands of people wearing NHL jerseys. It was one of the greatest nights I’ve ever experienced, so I’m very grateful for that.”

So, it’s a big surprise to see how many fans there are in Australia?

S: “Very surprised, very, very surprised. Knowing the amount of Canadians who are living here and still rooting for the NHL and watching the NHL product, so I’m very surprised.”

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but your son getting drafted by the New Jersey Devils- how was that for you?

S: “It was amazing. Stef Jr. worked really hard through his life to be drafted and a lot of people try to make fun of it because I was with the New York Rangers and scored a big goal against the Devils, but it was an honor when Stef was wearing the jersey and he played a few games and it was fun to go to New Jersey and watch him play.”

And finally, what’s it like scoring the game winning goal in a Conference Championship?

S: “It was amazing still. It’s like Denis Lemieux- 40 years later people still talk about it. My goal was 23 years ago and, if you were a New York Rangers fan, they still talk about it. I am very grateful that I had that opportunity to score that big goal.”

 

Yvon Barrette (Denis Lemieux from “Slapshot”)

Danii: What does it mean for you to be in Australia and be a part of this game?

Y: “That’s a great game, I love Australia. I’m following the StopConcussions tour. I have been four times in Germany. We went to the United Kingdom and I never doubted to come to Australia with Slapshot. At first I never doubted they were playing hockey here and I see the enthusiasm around the game and it’s fantastic.”

Speaking of Slapshot, great movie and absolute cult classic down here. What’s it like seeing so many people still supporting and loving the movie and you and everything surrounding it 40 years later?

Y: “You know, as an actor, I was surprised first to see that movie going for so long. 40 years, that’s something. Figure it out: I was 29, I’m 70 now! That’s the funny part of it: the voice doesn’t change, so as soon as I bring out a line they say ‘Denis Lemieux is here!’ And they love it. That’s a privilege for me.”

 

All in all, it was a fantastic night and a great game. With all the changes the NHL is making at the moment, it will be exciting and interesting to see what happens next year and it was an amazing privilege to be a part of it.

 

– Danii Gersbach

Twitter: @gerbatron

 

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