The Queensland Cyclones got in some practice time early in the week as they prepped to take on local hockey teams. The Australian hockey players are billeting with Milverton families over the week as they participate in a range of games, tournaments and training camps. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Nobody, it’s fair to say, quite loves hockey the way Canadians do, but that’s not to say the game doesn’t enjoy a wide level of support around the world. Trading the Gold Coast for the much colder Canadian countryside, the players of the Queensland Cyclones are spending the week in Canada, where they will be playing local teams and sharing in all things hockey.

The team, which touched down last weekend, is being billeted by families in Milverton and area, who are hosting the crew of 31 bantam and peewee players, along with 15 accompanying adults.

“The kids are having a great time,” said Cyclones co-founder Mike Harrow, who sparked the idea for the trip. Harrow lived in Milverton before moving to Australia, where his love for the winter sport helped form the Cyclones.

“We’ve got a lot of kids in our group that have never seen snow before. A lot of kids have never been outside of Australia. And a lot of kids that love hockey, but have never been in a hockey country before. So the kids are having a great time,” he added.

The team will be sharing ice with the Centre Perth Predators, as well as the teams in Listowel, Mildmay and Stratford over the week. The team will also be at an upcoming training camp in London, as well as participating in tournaments in Goderich and Lucknow. In between ice time, the team will have plenty of chances to experience Canadian life with their billet families, as well as pick up some hockey gear to take home with them.

“There’s four of us being billeted to one family, and they have three kids of their own that also play hockey,” said 12-year-old Cyclones player Brandon Evdokimov. “It’s cool. And there’s snow everywhere, which is amazing.”

Evdokimov has been playing the sport for four years, but sees the trip as a chance to test his abilities against a new set of players, as well as pick up new skills and experiences along the way. “Mainly just to get better, and honestly this is just an amazing experience to travel overseas with my friends. Yeah, it’s a good experience.”

“It’s just an experience for our kids, once in a life time,” said Nicole Harrow, who was one of several parents of the players to accompany the team. “Ice hockey in Australia, there’s not a lot of rinks, not a lot of opportunities for them to train and learn with specialist coaching. So I think being able to come over and experience different coaches and different cultures in the home hockey, I think is a really wonderful opportunity for them.”

The Township of Perth East also played a role in helping the team find billet families willing to open their homes to the team.

“We’ve previously been a billet family for the Australians when they came down to play baseball, and we had a very good experience with them and think it’s a great opportunity,” said Mike Hall, a Milverton resident who, along with his family, is hosting one of the Queensland players.

“We’re lucky enough, we have four daughters. And so we ended up with a girl from New Zealand, a 13-year-old girl. And our oldest daughter is 13,” said Hall. “They got along great. We took them out ice skating at an outdoor rink last night. She’s a real nice girl and its going to be a good experience.”

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