Five-year-old Ryan Lowe was at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, Calif., watching the Los Angeles Kings battle the Montreal Canadiens in an NHL matchup. Southern California is not known for spawning top hockey talent, but the Redondo Beach native was hooked, and has been minding the pipes in goal ever since.
Now, at 24, Lowe is in goal for the Canberra Knights of the Australian Ice Hockey league - you read that right - hockey in Oz. Don't be fooled, while Australia is half a world way from the Mecca of hockey in Canada, the quality of play is closer than you might think.
|Ryan Lowe spent five years in goal for San Jose State. Now he's a Canberra Knight of the Australian Ice Hockey League|
So how did Lowe end up in Canberra? After a five year career at San Jose State, Lowe tried out for several ECHL clubs but didn't get signed. Not ready to give up the sport he loves, Lowe turned south and began marketing himself to the AIHL.
"The AIHL has gotten press from the NHL and other major leagues in North America regarding the hundreds of high caliber players that have made the trek 'down under' to play during the North American and European off seasons," he said. "Once the puck didn't really bounce the way I planned this year in American hockey, I contacted the AIHL teams and Canberra showed the most interest."
Lowe said that it didn't fully hit him that he was going to Australia to continue his hockey career until he was sitting at the Los Angeles airport getting ready to leave.
"When I got the final decision from the coach and I knew heading down under was really going to happen I was ecstatic," he said. "But it didn't fully hit me until I was sitting in LAX looking at the plane and I said 'I'm going to spend the next half year in Australia.' I'll never forget it."
The AIHL is a professional league but they don't pay the players in cash. Many of the players that come to Australia are members of NCAA institutions and would forfeit their eligibility if paid a salary. For Lowe, payment is in the form of rent and a car, along with any team-related expense. However, Lowe has a part-time job when he isn't on the ice.
"I work a couple bartending shifts a week at a sponsor's restaurant for extra spending cash," he said.
Ice Hockey is a relatively new sport in Australia. Compared to rugby and Aussie Rules football it's an infant, but according to Lowe the fan base is growing and passionate about their new sport.
"Our rink isn't big but we pack it every game, I would estimate a couple thousand, and Australians get rowdy," he said. "The rink does not have glass so I can hear everything anyone yells, it's pretty funny sometimes. Our team also gets a lot of press coverage from the newspapers and even evening news broadcasts."
While Lowe said that his new home is very similar to the United States, there are some significant differences. Water spirals in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere and the folks drive on the opposite side of the road.
"I see a hundred kangaroos a day," Lowe said. "It seems every animal here can do serious damage to humans if crossed. Oh, and you don't tip here, and everything costs exactly what it says, tax is already included!"
The season runs through September - the Australian winter. Lowe's Visa runs through March 2010 and while he said he is looking at hockey-related options beyond Australia, if nothing comes up he plans on enjoying the opportunity to explore.
"I might live in a coastal city at the end of the season and enjoy some of spring and summer," he said.
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