THE biggest sporting leagues in the United States are littered with more Aussies than ever before, and there’s more on the way.
No matter how much Donald Trump wishes he could stop it, America is not immune to globalisation, and sport-mad nations like Australia have a whole lot of talent to share with the world.
The amount of athletes travelling across the Pacific Ocean is not slowing down either.
The latest additions to the NBA, no. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons and no. 10 draft pick Thon Maker, will join the seven Australians currently in the league in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, Patty Mills, and Cameron Bairstow. Maker and Simmons’ selections marked the first time two Australians had been taken in the first round of the NBA draft, underlining the high calibre of players produced Down Under in recent years.
There’s more Aussies on track for the NBA too with approximately 80 players currently coming through the college system in NCAA Division I alone.
Seven-foot-tall teenager Isaac Humphries is entering his sophomore year at Kentucky, the most successful college program in history. Melbourne born Jonah Bolden — son of former NBL player Bruce Bolden — will return to UCLA this season. At the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, Queenslander Harry Froling will join fellow Aussie Tom Wilson, and at Louisville there’s another Australian duo impressing scouts, in Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang. Meanwhile, highly-touted 18-year-old guard Dejan Vasiljevic is set to begin his freshman year with the University of Miami Hurricanes after knocking back interest from Stanford.
Jarryd Hayne may have significantly boosted Australia’s interest in the NFL last season, but long before he started playing, young up-and-coming Aussies have been plugging away in the college system, and at the NFL draft this year the results were phenomenal.
Victorian Adam Gotsis became the highest-ever NFL draft pick from Australia, taken in the second round by the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos at pick no. 63 overall. Gotsis was a homegrown talent who began playing the sport at his local club in Monash before a successful college career with Georgia Tech led him to the NFL. Now the defensive end is being talked up by the likes of NFL legend and Broncos general manager John Elway as a possible starter in his rookie year.
With punter Lachlan Edwards picked by the New York Jets in the seventh round as well, it marked the first time two Australians had been selected in one NFL draft. In addition to this, following the draft, there were free agent signings of offensive lineman Blake Muir (San Francisco) and punter Tom Hackett (New York Jets) and Adelaide kicker Brad Craddock (Cleveland, later waived).
Along with the Aussies already signed to NFL teams in Jordan Berry, Brad Wing and David Yankey, this new class of rookies has brought the total number of Australian players in the league to an all-time high of seven guys.
In Division I college football there are more Aussies with NFL potential on the way too. Muir’s brother Sean — also an offensive lineman — is still at Baylor, punter Cameron Johnston is entering his senior year with the 2014 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, and at the Michigan Wolverines led by former 49ers coach coach Jim Harbaugh, punter Blake O’Neill is another flying the flag for Australia.
When the University of Hawaii play at ANZ Stadium next month for the college football season opener against the University of California, Sydneysider Max Hendrie is also set to feature in a game that will further expose Australians to the game and perhaps inspire more to take up the sport.
Australia has produced some excellent MLB players over the years, and that trend isn’t about to end. There is currently one active Australian in the big leagues, in veteran pitcher Peter Moylan at the reigning world series champions, the Kansas City Royals.
In Detroit Warwick Saupold has had game time as has Liam Hendricks in Oakland, but both are bouncing up and down from the MLB to the lower leagues.
There’s some exciting young blood ready to step up in the next few years in baseball however. Identical twin brothers Alex and Lachie Wells are both 19-year-old pitchers playing rookie ball with affiliate teams of the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins respectively. In AAA baseball, Aussie shortstop James Beresford is also kicking around with Twins affiliate team, Rochester.
Australia might not have a player in the National Hocky League yet, but that wait could soon be over.
Sydney’s Nathan Walker made history as the first ever Australian selected in the NHL Draft in 2014 when he was taken by the Washington Capitals. Since then he has been working hard in the team’s lower league AHL and ECHL affiliate sides, developing as a player. Walker battled injury last year, but this past season with the Hershey Bears he reached career-best form, playing in 73 games, scoring 41 points and becoming the first Aussie to play in the Calder Cup finals.
Closer to home, the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League is a breeding ground for talent, and is a good stepping stone for young players looking to move up in the sport.
What made ‘The Great One’ great? Wayne Gretzky arrives in Sydney for USA v Canada Ice Hockey Classic, NHL
WAYNE Gretzky was never the biggest, strongest or fastest guy on the ice. A lanky figure with a gentle smile, he didn’t look much like his NHL counterparts. But somehow Gretzky ascended to become a legend of the sport. So what is it that helped make ‘The Great One’ great?
In a career spanning twenty years Gretzky stacked 61 official NHL records, (60 of which he still holds), including the most goals (1,016) and most assists (2,223). He’s won the Stanley Cup four times with the Edmonton Oilers and won the Hart Trophy, the league MVP award, on a record nine occasions.
When it comes to ice hockey, there’s Wayne Gretzky — light years — and then everyone else.
The word ‘legacy’ is sometimes overused when reflecting upon the achievements of our sporting heroes, but few compare to the legacy left by Gretzky.
Looking back, it’s not his records or accolades he’s most proud of though. It’s the effort he put in.
“People ask me all the time, if someone said ‘How would you like to be remembered?’ I always say the same thing: I played a lot of bad games but I know in my heart that I played hard every single game,” Gretzky told Fox Sports Australia.
“People came up to me and they said ‘You worked hard out there,’ and to me, that’s the biggest compliment I can get.”
Canada’s favourite son had many great mentors throughout his playing career, like his father Walter, and ‘Mr Hockey’ Gordie Howe — who tragically passed away just this month.
However Gretzky credits his grandparents for instilling in him the grit and determination that would make him a legend.
“I probably got that from my grandparents,” Gretzky said.
“My grandfather [Tony] was from Belarus, part of the Soviet Union at the time. In 1920 he came over with my grandmother [Mary] who was from Warsaw, and they both went to North America.
“They both worked through to their early 80s. They had a farm, and they did all their own farming, so I think the work ethic that I had as a player was inherited from my grandparents.”
That farm is where a young Gretzky would watch ice hockey on TV with his family. It’s also where he first pulled on the skates and picked up his stick.
Greatness would soon follow as he rocketed through the junior ranks and made his professional debut at the age of 17 in the WHA (now defunct), before joining the Oilers in the NHL the very next year and creating NHL history playing for Edmonton, the Los Angeles Kings, St Louis Blues and New York Rangers.
Even after his playing days, he continues to be an ambassador for the sport, currently visiting Australia for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic that bears his name.
“Hockey has been so good to me in my life and everything I have is because of hockey, so I think that we can help promote the game and get everyone to see how great of a sport it really is,” Gretzky said.
“The game fares well in colder climate places. Kids in Canada can skate on lakes and ponds in the winter and it doesn’t cost parents any money. But we’re getting much bigger now with San Jose, LA, Anaheim, more kids are playing, and the first pick in the NHL Draft this week will be from Phoenix, Arizona [Auston Matthews], which nobody ever thought would be possible.
“So it’s growing, it just takes time and hopefully twenty years from now, people over here are going to say ‘Wow, this is a fun sport’.”
Gretzky said getting more kids to watch and play ice hockey is what will help it grow Down Under. He also praised Australia’s first (and only) NHL draftee Nathan Walker for helping that cause.
“I heard he plays hard and he has some great abilities, and had a strong season [with Washington Capitals affiliated AHL team Hershey Bears]. It only helps our sport,” Gretzky said.
Sydney fans will be in for a treat Saturday night when Gretzky takes to the ice in a four-on-four exhibition prior to the main event.
The five-stop Australian tour has already been a hit in Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide, with Sydney and Brisbane the final games left on the schedule.
Gretzky has also brought along his 25-year-old son Ty, a keen player himself who now works for his dad’s hockey camps and is expected to play in Sydney.
As for what ‘The Great One’ will get up to in his downtime while in town, just don’t expect golf to be on his itinerary, despite his son-in-law Dustin Johnson’s triumph at the US Open last week.
“I don’t get any golf tips,” Gretzky said.
“My golf upside is about as good as his hockey upside… which is not very good.”
Wayne Gretzky will be at the Qudos Bank Arena for the USA vs Canada Ice Hockey Classic.
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne: Friday 17 June, 2016
Perth Arena, Perth: Saturday 18 June, 2016
Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Adelaide: Friday 24 June, 2016
Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney: Saturday 25 June, 2016
Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane: Saturday 2 July, 2016
Toronto Maple Leafs select Arizona-born Auston Matthews as no. 1 pick
ON the heels of the NHL expanding into Las Vegas, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pinning their future on Arizona-born centre Auston Matthews.
Amid chants of “Go Leafs, Go!” the 18-year-old from Scottsdale was selected by Toronto with the first pick in the NHL draft Friday night. Though the Maple Leafs had kept their decision under wraps since winning the draft lottery in April, Matthews was the expected choice.
NHL Central Scouting ranked the 6-foot-2, 210-pound playmaker as its top draft-eligible project, and he’s also a natural centre, a top-line position that’s difficult to fill. Matthews already has pro experience after spending last season with Zurich in the Swiss Elite League.
Finnish-born forwards Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi rounded out the three top prospects.
Matthews, who grew up a Coyotes fan, became the seventh American selected at No. 1, and first since the Chicago Blackhawks chose Patrick Kane with the top pick in 2007.
For Toronto, Matthews represents a significant piece in general manager Lou Lamoriello’s extensive rebuilding plans to restore relevance to one of the league’s most high-profile franchises. The Maple Leafs have missed the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 years, and spent last season purging high-priced contracts and veteran talent with a focus on rebuilding through youth.
Matthews arrives at a time when the Maple Leafs usher in the 100th year of professional hockey being played in Canada’s largest city.
Winnipeg was set to select second, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets, whose general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he’s considering trading the pick depending upon which two players are taken ahead of him.
Two trades were announced by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before the second pick.
Montreal traded forward Lars Eller to Washington for the Capitals’ second-round draft picks in 2017 and ‘18.
Also, Chicago traded forward Andrew Shaw to Montreal for the Canadiens’ two second-round picks — No. 39 and 45 — in this year’s draft.
Numerous Maple Leafs fans made the two-hour drive to Buffalo to be on hand for their team selecting first for only the second time in the draft. Toronto selected Wendel Clark first in 1985. Each time Maple Leafs began cheering, their rival Sabres fans began booing.
Before the draft began, Bettman announced that the league’s annual pre-draft rookie combine will return to Buffalo for a third consecutive year.
Wayne Gretzky busy giving back to the sport of ice hockey that gave ‘everything I have in my life’
NO matter where Wayne Gretzky goes or what he does in life, he always remembers his father’s wise words.
“Skate where the puck’s going, not where it has been.”
It’s a philosophical match-related message Gretzky has applied to every aspect of his life to become a living example of looking forward to achieve your dreams.
“I was lucky that I had great parents who gave me opportunity,” Gretzky told The Sunday Telegraph.
“Sometimes we forget that the greatest athletes in the world also had parents that drove them to all the practices and games.
“I now have a clothing line in Canada, a winery and a restaurant.
“I’ve know my limitations and my life is hockey and I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with some great people that have really guided and helped me be successful since I’ve retired as a player.”
Gretzky hung up the skates 16 years ago but his reputation as the greatest ice hockey player still precedes him.
It’s why the iconic Canadian is greeted with fanfare every time he shows his face in public.
There is more to this remarkable man than his 61 NHL records in a stellar career spanning 20 years.
People endear themselves to Gretzky’s story of triumph against the odds.
The Brantford-born talent who defied his slender stature, strength and speed with unrivalled intelligence on the ice.
“I wasn’t a big strong athlete like other guys, so I had to utilise my hockey common sense,” Gretzky says simply.
“From the time I was two-and-a-half years old I never changed my style.
“I was also really lucky and I didn’t get lot of injuries.
“My wife always said one of the great attributes I had as a player was it’s an art not to get hurt.
“I had a minor knee injury and a little back issue for half a season, but other than that I’m okay.”
It’s a clear bill of health that enables Gretzky to play tennis with his wife every week, while he also devotes time to the golf course.
The man dubbed ‘The Great One’ is the future father-in-law to Dustin Johnson, one of the world’s most promising golfers.
Gretzky has been the perfect role model for Johnson, who despite winning last week’s US Open, often struggles with the external expectations placed on him.
Ice hockey’s best may enjoy the odd game of golf, but his heart will always beat for the rush of donning the skates.
“When I get on the ice I always have a lot of fun,” he smiles.
“I wish I could still play — I miss it dearly — but I also understand physically I just can’t compete at that level now.”
It’s why Gretzky, now 55, gives back to his beloved ice hockey through his foundation for underprivileged children.
“We buy hockey equipment, ice time and try and give kids an opportunity to play,” he explains.
“Because if they can’t afford to play — it’s not fair, so through the money we raise we try and help the kids who are less fortunate.
“I tell people this all the time, but everything I have in my life is because of hockey.
“I’ve got to see the world, meet great people and have great memories.
“But the one thing that I was really proud of in my career was that I played every game with everything I had.
“I still played a lot of bad games like every other athlete, but more importantly in my heart I know I played the best I could.”
It’s a mantra Gretzky lives every day.
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