Defence, inline and a century of games: Spencer Austin
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - Submitted by Tina Girdler
Sydney Bears' Spencer Austin recently played his 100th game in the AIHL. As a 22-year old, he has been playing for five years in the top grade after starting with the Sydney Ice Dogs in 2010.
However, the youngster seems to find himself on the wrong side of referees throughout his career and could claim the unofficial title of penalties in minutes in the AIHL. Before thanking the Bears' rivalry with the Sydney Ice Dogs for their help in this, the Bears' defenceman is starting to see his style of physical play change thanks to skills honed in inline hockey.
Austin, born in Ontario, Canada came to Australia from the age of two. He began ice skating from the age of five and playing soon after in Canterbury rink under the tutelage of his father, Bears' assistant coach, Steve Austin. Father-coaches aren’t a rarity playing hockey growing up and he found the experience commonplace amongst friends.
“It’s good. It’s a lot different,” Austin said. “But, sometimes you don’t get treated the way another coach would treat you being a coach's son. That’s the only downfall of it.”
Known for playing on the Bears' blue line for the past four seasons, Austin started out initially as a forward till Peewees when trialling to represent New South Wales.
“I started and I went to try out for the New South Wales team as a forward,” Austin said. “I noticed there were less defencemen so I changed to defence, thinking that I’d make the team. And I made the team as a defencemen.”
Transitioning positions at the younger age was assisted by a combination of the state coaches, his father and years of playing and watching hockey. He credits his father for teaching him the initial skills needed.
“Dad was a defencemen so the first thing I learnt was to skate backwards and the harder stuff first,” Austin said.
Surprisingly it’s not two-time and current James Norris Memorial Trophy holder for the NHL’s best defenceman Duncan Keith he admires, or runner up in voting and previous winner Zdeno Chara. Growing up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, he views one of their players and 2012 first round pick offensive defencemen Morgan Rielly as a favourite. Defencemen usually take longer to develop in the NHL compared to forwards and the puck moving defenceman cracked the Leafs line up as a 19-year old and is just fresh off his rookie season in the NHL. Austin admired his style of play.
“He’s not short. He’s not tall. He’s just quick and knows how to move the puck up,” Austin said.
Although the Norris is technically given to the best all-around defenceman in the NHL, in recent years the voting trend has steered it towards the best offensive defencemen. Spencer Austin has seen his own thoughts in defence shift with the change.
“I usually follow more defensive guys but the past few years I’ve changed more to offensive defencemen,” Austin said. “[I have] always been able to play like that but I’ve never done it. Since getting back from overseas with the inline, I’ve sort of changed in myself; in my confidence.”
Austin only began playing inline hockey at the age of eighteen after skating with friends at Moore Park.
“We didn’t really have a league here in New South Wales and then we found out there was a new rink being built in Smeaton Grange,” Austin said. “So then I started playing Monday nights at Emu Plains. From there I ended up playing in the Inline Super League.”
With numerous AIHL players participating in the Inline Super League, some familiar faces include fellow Bears Cameron Todd and Lee Turner. The three players represent a growing faction of players further developing their talent on wheels as a form of cross training. Inline has a focus on puck possession as with an open rink and no offside. Players have the potential to retain the puck until a high scoring opportunity presents itself. Without contact, Austin views this as encouraging, focusing skill and speed and less on strength and intimidation.
After competing in Nationals for New South Wales, Austin was a late call up to represent the national side at the IIHF inline championships where the team claimed the silver medal.
“Rooming with Lee Turner, with him being my best friend, was a pretty special thing,” Austin said. “The night before the gold medal game, we had a conversation and it was just funny how we could just sit there and laugh at each other. How we never thought we could be there on the other side of the world playing inline for Australia and winning a medal.”
Lee Turner shared in the enthusiasm for being part of the most successful IIHL Australian Inline team.
“Silver medal the best result [Australia] has ever had! Proud to be part of it!” Turner said on Facebook.
2014 hasn’t been the year that the Sydney Bears were envisaging after the team’s promising performances in the first five starts with defence a glaring hole for the team. Coach Vlad Rubes early in the season spoke to theAIHL.com of his wish for more experience on the blue line.
”Though it would be good to get a defencemen playing on the national team, we don’t yet, so we just have to deal and work with what we have,” Rubes said.
An import defencemen would be another alternate but unfortunately the Bears have been unable to recruit one despite their best efforts.
“I said at the start of the year we needed a defencemen and that’s been my opinion but when you offer imports things and they don’t like it, they won’t come,” Austin said. “It’s kind of a gamble who you’re going to get anyway. I know we had a few defencemen in the works but then what we offered didn’t match what they wanted because they come from a paying league and here you don’t get paid.”
Austin summed it up neatly.
“We need more defencemen; we only have five defencemen,” he said. “You can win games with five defencemen but you definitely can’t win games with four defencemen playing. The fact that we only have five defencemen is pretty scary because if something happens like an injury then you’re stuffed.”
Austin is hoping to get local players like the ECSL’s Paul Bond, formerly of the now defunct Central Coast Rhino’s to help fill the core.
“In the past two years he’s played his maximum three games he can play up for in the league from the Super League,” Austin said. “We utilised him this year the best way we could and he wants to play with us next year. You don’t get paid in this league and you have work to go to on Monday and if you have a good job, you have to sacrifice things.”
With playoff hopes for the Bears slowly slipping away, Austin just wants to enjoy what remains of the season, come what may.
“We all want to make the finals and our backs are against the wall big time but we need to just have fun,” Austin said. “Get ready for next year and if we’re going to lose four of the next eight games, don’t take it to heart. We’ve put ourselves in this position so there’s no point getting [cross] over it.”
The Sydney Bears are on the road this weekend, taking on the Adelaide Adrenaline in a double header in Adelaide.
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