Michael Poirier in action for the Sydney Bears during the 2022 AIHL season. (Photo: Peter Podlaha; Design: Will Cuckson)

It was the typical Canadian story for Michael Poirier when growing up, throwing on some hockey skates before he could walk and falling in love with a game that has taken him across the world.

Poirier spent his youthful days coming up through the junior Canadian hockey system, then moved across to Europe, spending time in France and with the Dundee Stars in the Elite Ice Hockey League.

Frozen ponds were abundant for Poirier as a young kid on the east coast of Canada, it’s there where his love and passion for the game started to grow.

Michael Poirier with the Tyler Lovering Award for Best Defenceman. (Photo: Sheepie)

“I feel like it’s very typical for a lot of Canadians where they say you almost start skating before you start walking,” Poirier told The Inner Sanctum.

“I think I started skating when I was like three-years-old. Where I am from, I’m from the east coast of Canada, a lot of water flows through our community. So a lot of lakes a lot of frozen ponds and I think the love of the game kind of just started there.

“I was a massive hockey addict my entire life just for the love of the game. My passion continued as the years evolved from being a teenager then now an adult playing hockey, I have always loved the game.”

But it wasn’t until he arrived on Australian shores that the best experience of his ice hockey career would take place, spending only one season with the Sydney Bears, Poirier fell in love with the league and team.

Poirier would star for the Bears and be a key contributor throughout the season, finishing with 32 points (10 goals, 22 assists) from 16 games played. It was a Bears team that would ultimately fall in a tightly contested preliminary final against the Newcastle Northstars.

“I remember my agent at the time he had come up to Scotland for a little vacation and we were out to lunch one day,” continued Poirier.

“I think it was last February [2022] and he brought up there was an opportunity of a team in Sydney looking for a defenceman and he was wondering if I would be interested. It kind of caught me off guard, I wasn’t expecting that.

“And I had known two previous players that actually played in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL). Cameron Critchlow that played for the Adelaide [Adrenaline] team a few years ago and then Dillon Lawrence who also played for Melbourne [Ice], and I asked them about their time and experience in Australia and they had nothing but good things to say about it. They said if you get the opportunity you should jump on that.

“Quick reflection took me a couple of weeks, talked to my girlfriend and my family and I just made the decision to try this opportunity out.

“Looking back, I do not regret my decision at all going to play for the Sydney Bears, it was one of the best opportunities, best experiences I have ever had, and I’m a proud alumni of that league now.”

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Coming from professional hockey in Europe, Poirier wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving in Australia. With COVID still lingering, teams weren’t import heavy for the 2022 season.

However, the league and players that Poirier suited up with at the Bears did catch him off guard as the talent from the rising Australian players really worked hard on and off the ice.

“I think previously before COVID it was five or six imports, and then my year I believe it was only two or three,” said Poirier.

“Obviously the skill level does tend to come down if you have less professional hockey players that come in [and] elevate that calibre of play. Honestly it kind of caught me off guard, I wasn’t sure really what to expect in terms of the style and the skill level but my team especially, the Sydney Bears, I felt like we had a deep team.

“A lot of young Australian players that are eager to get better and they put in a lot of the work. It did catch me off guard a little bit.”

Michael Poirier skates with the puck at the Sydney Bears home barn Macquarie Ice Rink. (Photo: Peter Podlaha)

When imports come to Australia and play in the AIHL, many of them find a connection and love for not only the club but the city they play in. Some import players stay permanently and end up representing Australia on a national level.

Poirier, while only in Sydney and with the Bears for one season, has a deep sense of pride and love for the club that treated him so well during his stay.

“They [Bears] were extremely accommodating from the get-go from the organisation top down,” continued Poirier.

“And I know there is a lot of volunteers that go behind that and the dedication and passion that they put behind it to have a running ice hockey team in Sydney.

“A lot of hurdles I feel like maybe from the government itself that are trying to get away from ice sports in Australia, but there is a lot of passionate volunteers behind that organisation from Wayne Hellyer to Nathan Graham plenty more people involved in that that make the experience top notch for players that are coming outside of Australia who are away from home, away from their families.

“It’s a good feeling when you have people that care about how you are doing on a daily basis in a foreign country.”

Going to a foreign country to play the sport you have dedicated a career to can be daunting for any sportsperson. For Poirier his time at the Bears still continues to this day.

Not only now an alumni to the club which is forever in the history books, Poirier has formed lifelong friendships within the Sydney Bears organisation.

Michael Poirier shoots the puck for the Sydney Bears. (Photo: Andrew Bourne)

“I still stay in contact with a few of players,” continued Poirier.

“Even right now with the World Championships going on I have been watching a lot of the games, I know Kimmer’s [Anthony Kimlin] is in net, Rob Haselhurst is playing on the backend there as well.

“I feel like wherever I go I build those connections because at the end of the day when you play a team sport you are a family, and if you have a bad apple in the team, it might hinder a team’s success. And I feel like that’s important – building strong relationships with whoever you come across really.”

When people think of ice hockey the furthest thing from anyone’s mind is Australia, a sun-kissed country where people would be surprised not only that the sport is played here, but it has a thriving national competition.

The Goodall Cup which is the ultimate crown for teams that are participating in the AIHL each season, is the oldest ice hockey trophy in the world outside of North America. And getting the chance to strap on the skates for the Sydney Bears, who have a 41-year-old history, is something Poirier will cherish for the rest of his life.

“In a part of the world where you wouldn’t think ice hockey is a prevalent place to play,” said Poirier.

“When you think about ‘oh let’s go play hockey’, maybe you think of North America, maybe you think of Sweden, Denmark, all those places, but when you are in the land down under it’s a unique experience.

“I still have my Sydney Bears jerseys that I am going to hang up on my wall for the rest of my life and look back and be like ‘wow, I can’t believe I was in Sydney traveling Australia, playing the sport I grew up loving’. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do that, to travel the world and visit different places while playing a sport.

“That’s my biggest takeaway is just being in Australia playing ice hockey.”

Loud and rowdy Sydney Bears fans fill up the stands in the first Battle of Sydney for the 2023 AIHL season. (Photo: Peter Podlaha/AIHL Facebook)

Poirier now resides in Ottawa back in his native Canada, but the Bears are never far from his mind. He is constantly looking at the results and catching streams when circumstances allow.

With the 2023 AIHL season now underway, Poirier hopes the Bears can go that one step better and reach the Goodall Cup Final to claim the club’s fourth trophy, and is calling on the loud and rowdy Bears fans to continue supporting the team, something Poirier loved during his time in Sydney.

“Keep being loud and proud and supporting the boys,” continued Poirier.

“When the Macquarie Ice Centre is jammed packed it’s an extremely fun atmosphere and I am sure other teams don’t enjoy playing in that rink.

“But keep supporting the fellas and another Goodall Cup will be coming in that direction I feel it.”

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