When you recount the story of the Perth Thunder to those who aren’t aware of hockey in Australia, it’s tough to tell them believably that one of the league’s most prolific defencemen hails from Margaret River, known broadly for it’s wineries and surfing, and many would leave the conversation thinking it a fantasy.
However that’s the exact case for Thunder veteran Rob Haselhurst, who grew up in Margaret River and fell in love with the sport of hockey commuting between Montreal and the South West of Australia.
And while the offseason was mainly a hockey-free time for Haselhurst, that all changed last summer when the former AIHL Defenceman of the Year discovered a roller hockey club on his doorstep, while partaking in that famous Margaret River past time of surfing.
“I was surfing with a friend who plays under water hockey, and he said ‘I see these guys playing roller hockey at the gym every time I’m coming out of the pool’” Haselhurst said after the Thunder’s recent weekend series against Adelaide. “I said ‘what do you mean roller hockey, there’s no roller hockey in Margaret River’ and he assured me there was.”
It wasn’t long before Haselhurst was lacing them up for the Margaret River Street Hockey Club, a team that coordinator Ed Thomas says has grown quicker than anyone involved could have anticipated.
“The growth of the Dunsborough and Margaret River teams was pretty quick,” Thomas said. “We were playing hockey in Dunsborough because there are quite a few Canadian and American people there, so I thought I may as well start one up in Margaret River.”
“As soon as one comes, more come, and word of mouth spreads that it’s all great fun, especially with kids whose parents grew up watching hockey and passed it down.”
The laid-back nature of the South West region shines through in the way teams compete as well, with an all-ages policy in the competing teams and a casual league structure aiding a welcoming atmosphere.
“There’s no structured league as such, we have knock-around games on Monday in Dunsborough and Tuesday in Margaret River, and there’s a team in Bunbury as well, and when we all feel like playing a game we organise a game” Thomas said.
“We don’t have rules on age, all age groups play on one team; there was an 11-year-old who played in a game in Dunsborough against 60-year-olds,”
The discovery couldn’t have come at a better time for Haselhurst in the offseason. With the IIHF World Championships in Serbia being just around the corner and Haselhurst having been selected for the Australian Mighty Roos squad, roller hockey provided him a chance to regain some important touch before the tournament.
“I hadn’t even picked up a stick in around four months and was about to head to World Championships, I had to start training, so it was perfect,” Haselhurst said. “You lose your hands and vision a lot if you’re not on the ice, so being able to play roller hockey with such a great group of people is perfect for me.”
Haselhurst now has 165 Australian Ice Hockey League games to his name, and while the nature of the roller hockey games are far different to that of an AIHL bout, Haselhurst’s competitive fire still shines bright even in a casual game.
“It doesn’t matter what skill level somebody is, if you can put it on someone’s tape and get them a goal it’s a great feeling,” Haselhurst said. “Especially the younger guys, they might have never scored a goal before, so it gives me that little extra motivation to try hard.”
Haselhurst admits that the relaxed vibe of the club has meant roller hockey will be a new staple in his offseason.
“I rocked up to my first practice and it was such a good atmosphere, I only found out about it late this year so I’m excited to get down there for six months,” Haselhurst said. “I live in Margaret River every summer and it’s the only chance I get to play some sort of hockey.”
Thomas stated he was thrilled to have someone of Haselhurst’s caliber and character involved with the club, and said that while the league was growing, the teams were taking a steady approach.
“All the teams involved are taking it as it comes at the moment,” Thomas said. “We’re looking to keep growing to maybe a club in Busselton, the more teams the better.”
Haselhurst went so far as to lay down the challenge to his Perth Thunder teammates for an offseason game in his home town, but Thomas was less than confident of his team’s chances, even with Haselhurst.
“Maybe if the Thunder were on ice skates and we played on a court we’d have a chance.”