Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - Submitted by Bernard McNamara
We will be the 2014 season for a myriad of reasons. One is the creation and subsequent success of the CBR Brave. Although the narrative may have been two wins short of a dream entry into the AIHL, the Brave as an organisation has written the first chapter in what will no doubt be a rich legacy. If the Brave’s first season in the league is anything to go by, the future is bright for hockey in the nation’s capital and fan expectations will be high in 2015 as they seek to claim the premiership.
While a 6-1 loss to the Melbourne Ice meant the end of the fairy tale season in the last weekend of August, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Brave supporters. Despite the Canberra Knights being a foundation club, no Canberra-based club had made the AIHL Finals. The Brave fans were going to enjoy their first trip to the playoffs. Having played to packed houses at home all season, many fans made the trip to Melbourne and the CBR faithful continued to cheer their team long after the final whistle.
“We’re always going to lay claim to having the best fans in the league,” said CBR captain Mark Rummukainen. “Anytime you can look up and see 200 hundred people who’ve travelled such a long way cheer you on, it’s a great feeling and it makes playing hockey fun.”
The newly formed CBR didn’t just retain their Canberra Knights fan base, they actually grew it into something bigger and better.
“We’ve always had a good fan base,” said CBR veteran Jordan Gavin. “We wondered if we’d be able to retain our all our fans. However, with the success of this season, the fan base just seems to have doubled, if not tripled. It’s been amazing.”
There’s been plenty to cheer for the Brave on the ice this season. The performance and accolades of the CBR imports has been well documented, but it’s the home grown stars that have stepped out of the shadows and helped the team stamp their identity on the league. This season has been a coming-of-age for youngsters like Kai Miettinen, Chris McPhail and Harry and James Byers, who have all played junior hockey in the nation’s capital.
“The local guys have impressed me the most this season” said Rummukainen. “The way they’ve bought into a new system and worked hard all year. They’ve taken huge steps this year. They’re not boys anymore; there young men competing in the top league in this country.”
The creation of the CBR Brave not only provided a platform the youngsters to excel, it also re-united the team with some of the Canberra’s most experienced and well respected hockey players, such as backup goalie Brad Hunt, alternate captain Aaron Clayworth, journeymen Matt Lehoczkhy and David Lewis. These were guys who had done it tough on previous Canberra teams and they all jumped at the chance to lay the foundations for CBR hockey and contribute to the on ice success.
“For a new franchise to be able to attract guys like that back was huge,” said Gavin. “It’s been great to boost our roster with hardened veterans who know the game inside and out. They’ve brought a lot of heart and hockey knowledge to our dressing room which has been invaluable to the team.”
“As a league, we want teams to survive,” Laver said. “Every team in this league needs the other teams. To see where they came from at the start of the season to where they are now is a great achievement.”
“We had the road trip of a lifetime when we went to Canberra this season. After the games sitting in the bar and having a beer with the Brave and their fans, there was just so much excitement for the team and for hockey. We [Melbourne Ice] took a lot away from the experience, and the model they have there in Canberra is something we’d like to try and learn from.”
The culture of Canberra hockey has changed for the better and it shows on the ice, in the stands and in the community.
“The biggest thing for us was the fresh start,” said Rummukainen. “We’ve got a new board running things and it really gave us a new outlook and a different attitude to everything. This year the guys in the front office are really pushing us to win and that has flowed right down to the guys on the ice who want to do everything they can to make that happen. Most of all, it’s been a fun year and great ride. We just want to keep it going into next season.”
With fans already looking toward the future, the Brave are hoping that they can return to the AIHL’s biggest stage at the conclusion of the 2015 season. Having been such a huge part of ensuring the Brave even got on the ice, a key question was whether the 32-year old Australian hockey stalwart Rummukainen would look to line up again for the Brave.
“I’ll keep playing until they ask me to leave. I love it,” said the veteran defenceman and fan favourite.
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