Coaching women’s hockey on opposite ends of the Earth

February 24, 2016

Lindsay McAlpine prepares to lead Team Australia at the Women’s World Championship

It was 40 degrees Celsius outside when Griffins Women’s Hockey head coach Lindsay McAlpine stepped off the plane in Melbourne, Australia on December 2. She was there to run her first high performance camp for prospective Team Australia players as the team’s new head coach, and to begin the process of choosing the players who will represent the country at the Women’s World Championship in Spain from February 29 to March 6.

“Building a team in a country that is 14,000 kilometres away, where outdoor ice is nonexistent and hockey isn’t part of the culture has been really interesting,” says Lindsay. “The work I do here at MacEwan is very hands-on—I’m with my players six days a week and our coaching team has been together for five years, so they know what I’m going to say before I even say it. With Team Australia, our player meetings and coach meetings happen through Skype and I focus on providing a bit of a different tactical look, energy and voice.”

Lindsay says she bases her coaching and her decisions about forming the team on footage she watches from games in the Australia Women’s Ice Hockey League.

“Women’s hockey is such a small community there, so I’m picking from a very different pool of players.” To illustrate, the International Ice Hockey Federation stats show that Australia has 389 female hockey players compared to Canada’s 86,612, and 10 indoor rinks compared to Canada’s 2,631.

“The cultural differences are huge when it comes to hockey—it’s just not integrated into their culture the way it is in Canada, and that’s understandable. Here, we can watch seven different NHL games in a single night, but in Australia they don’t even get the Stanley Cup Finals. When you grow up watching and talking about the game, it’s presented to you very differently and that means their game is structured a bit differently as well.”

That has made for a bit of a steep learning curve for Lindsay’s Aussie players, but it’s a challenge the coach has enjoyed. Now, she says she’s looking forward to meeting the final assembled team for the first time at the training camp in the Czech Republic before the team competes at the World’s.

“I really want to see how they come together, but I’m probably most excited for the first game of the World Championships. It will feel a bit strange to hear the Australian national anthem playing instead of “O Canada,” but I know that playing a part on the international stage will be very exciting.”

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