Australian girls chase hockey dreams
by Andy Potts|10 FEB 2023
Australian captain Molly Lukowiak and head coach Tamra Jones (in the centre) celebrate the gold medal win at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division II Group A with staff members.
photo: Karl Denham
“Dreams do come true, if only we wish hard enough. You can have anything in life if you will sacrifice everything else for it.”

A motivational slogan on a locker-room wall? A famous quote from a multiple champion? Not quite. It’s a line from Peter Pan, the classic children’s story with roots in Dumfries. The gardens at Moat Brae that inspired J.L. Barrie’s tales of Neverland, where Peter and his Lost Boys never grow up, are one of the Scottish town’s top tourist attractions, a must-see for several of the players involved in the recent Women’s U18 Division IIA tournament.

That tournament ultimately saw Australia’s dreams coming true with a golden performance in a competitive group. Meanwhile, of the nations involved, the Australians faced a greater range of challenges than most.

“A lot of these girls only met for the first time at the airport when we were coming over,” said head coach Tamra Jones. “It took us over 40 hours to travel here because of flight availability.

“We just tell them they have to be resilient. We live on a small island far away but we want to compete with the rest of the world.”

A gold-medal campaign in Scotland can only help to boost hockey’s profile in Australia. Success on the international stage can open doors when it comes to attracting sponsorship and recruiting new players.

“This team has been successful on every tour, we’ve won medals in other tournaments, we’re growing,” added coach Jones. “We might even be growing faster than we expected.

“Now we have a big challenge ahead to be competitive at the next level. There’s a lot of work to do, and there’s a lot of uncertainty because all of our coaching staff are out of contract following this year’s World Championship.

“But we know we have a really special group. Most of them return next season and we’ve got some more talented players who are coming of age.

“It’s an exciting time for the girls in Australian hockey.”

Outside of international play, competing on a wider stage usually means looking for a place on a team in North America. A handful of the Australian players in Dumfries managed to gain that kind of experience, including Natasha Dube. The 15-year-old, who was second on team scoring in the recent World Championship campaign, is currently part of Gloucester Cumberland Girls Hockey in East Ottawa.

She’s revelling in the opportunity to develop her skills overseas. “It’s really great,” she said. “When I first went to Canada, people were very shocked that an Australian was playing hockey. But I did it, and so can other people. It gives us a chance to prove a point, and show that we can play hockey in Australia.

“It would be great if more of us could have that kind of opportunity.”

Team captain Molly Lukowiak is exploring the possibility of swapping Perth Inferno for a college program in North America, acknowledging the limitations of life in the AWHL. And head coach Jones is all in favour of Australia’s youngsters looking for opportunities abroad.

“We benefit when they have that competitive environment on a regular basis,” she said. “That’s difficult to replicate in Australia. We have the AWHL, but it’s not enough. We have a limited season of 12-15 games.

“So when girls go [to North America] they gain that experience and bring it to our practices. That definitely helps us to be as successful as we are now.”

Once again, it becomes a matter of chasing a dream.

“A lot of the girls who are playing over there are the older girls,” Jones added. “They work really hard to get that chance. We’ve known a lot of them since they were eight or 10 years old. Right back when they started out, they set themselves a goal to go overseas.

“Then they found opportunities to do that, and they’re living their hockey dream.”