A Canadian with an Australian nickname, Matt ‘Wombat’ Harvey, has endeared himself to the Canberra locals over a 130 game Australian Ice Hockey League career with the CBR Brave, including captaining the club, and hoisting the Goodall Cup in 2018.
Like others before him, the story of ice hockey is like so many Canadians growing up – outside rinks and pond hockey was the norm for Harvey who grew up 20 minutes north of Calgary, Alberta.
An older brother to practice and battle the puck with, and a father who was an immigrant to the country finally playing beer league, ice hockey would eventually take Harvey around the world. With successful stints in Finland and Austria, tasting championship success along the way, Harvey finally arrived in Australia in 2014 where he has become a Brave club stalwart and holds a lasting legacy.
“We grew up playing like with my older brother … who’s four years older and we just had this huge garagey shed type of thing that was a part of our house,” Harvey told the Net, Sticks, and Chill Podcast.
“It was massive, so we could just play in there all the time with our sticks, and I just remember seeing pictures of when we were like a couple years old and then the other feature that this house had was a large lake in pretty much our backyard.
“So, my parents moved over from New Zealand to Canada, and they were looking after like this big massive property so yeah it just made sense. And my dad started playing with some beer league team and he gave it a go and then he would come home with some hockey sticks and skates and from there we just started playing and trying it all out.”
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There was never a plan for Harvey once he arrived in Australia, a Canadian and son of New Zealand immigrants. The 2014 season was almost a test case on ice hockey life down under with no real plans further than that one year.
The Brave were a new entity in the AIHL – after the demise of the Canberra Knights in 2013 – and following that initial first 2014 season there was a sense of building something meaningful for not only Harvey, but the Brave roster at the time.
“That year was more, ‘hey, I don’t know if I’m going to be here forever or just come have a fun year’ and that’s what I think the culture was,” continued Harvey.
“Which started out this other thing of continuation and you know, we’re not just the team that just wants to have fun. That’s where we started, and we had a pretty good team and did well.
“But then from there it was more ok commitment to the team and bringing in guys that were going to be contributing to hard work on and off the ice. So, I think from there it has been in the back of the mind.
“Really thankful that I had my chance to lead the team as a captain and that’s one of the things that I really tried to focus on was just making everyone feel welcome and making everyone feel on board with what, what was going on.
“Losing divide between players and connecting locals with imports. It’s different every year and I think that’s a big job of the captain and the leaders on the team to make everything flow smoothly and keep everyone together in those difficult times. When you know when you have hurdles to jump in a season.”
Harvey, 37, is coming to the back end of his ice hockey career and is now a veteran within the Brave system leading a team that is stacked with young talent who are the reigning AIHL champions.
Someone who arrived in Australia without a vision of what the future would hold and no plans other than the one AIHL season, Harvey is dedicated to getting the Brave into the finals again for that elusive back-to-back Goodall Cup glory which has eluded the club.
“Definitely want to go back-to-back, team hasn’t done that yet, so that’s number one,” said Harvey.
“And then my personal goals are, yeah, if I’m playing forward, just produce. If I’m playing defence be the best that I can in that position. And then from there it’s isolated into other things like in forward I had to lose some pounds to get a bit better shape this year as an older guy.
“Just working on winding the clock back in a little bit faster and getting more used to forwards, so each practice you know you figure out what those things are that you want to work on and work towards them and I find that’s helping out a lot.”
The biggest test for the Brave this season comes during week seven of AIHL competition when the leagues in-form team, Sydney Bears, travel to Canberra to face a near full strength Brave team.
It will be the second meeting between the two teams after the Bears ran out 8-2 winners back on April 30. However, on home ice and with a stronger roster this time around the Brave will be looking for revenge in one of their biggest grudge matches.
“Bears are a big grudge match with us, and I think in our first game that we played them, we were a little short stacked and they walloped us pretty good,” continued Harvey.
“I was there at that game and yeah, I just have a big grudge against them. They’re a great team, I think they have, you know, a good leadership back there. [Ryan] Annesley’s a smart guy, I can hear him all the time he’s like giving people feedback, coaching the team.
“So, I think this weekend it’ll be really good, we pretty much have our full squad to be able to figure out what to do early on against them and really analyse what we need to do to not only compete, but come away with the win, hopefully.”
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