There’s no shortage of B.C.-born hockey players who have come up big on the world stage.
Goaltender Carey Price of the Ulkatcho First Nation earned his 14th consecutive win after backstopping Team Canada to a 2-1 victory over Team Europe in last month’s World Cup of Hockey final. “Burnaby Joe” Sakic wore the red maple leaf at seven different international tournaments, including leading the national men’s team to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Shea Weber of Sicamous has patrolled the blue line for his home country seven times so far and has won gold at six of them.
But one name that rarely comes up in discussions of the best British Columbian to appear on international ice is that of former Surrey resident Glen Foll, who laced up his skates to play in no less than 80 games.
If you’ve never heard of him, it’s probably because he played for Australia.
Foll first began his hockey career playing in North Surrey Minor Hockey Association midget league. He went on to play for the Surrey Saints in the Pacific Junior Hockey League and later in the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, bouncing around between a number of teams including the Vancouver Bluehawks, the Langley Eagles and the New Westminster Royals. But, like a lot of young Canadians do, he had the urge to go walkabout in his early twenties.
“It was either buying an RV and travelling around the U.S. with some buddies or go to Australia on holiday,” Foll, 54, said over the phone last week while back in town visiting family. “But then someone told me that they played hockey down there as well and so I asked the ice hockey federation for more information. They ended up sending me an overseas player form, which helped fast-track my work permit, which was a lot easier to get in those days, and I ended up playing on a team in the premier league.”
The 5’10” defenceman soon established himself as one of the top players with the Macquarie Bears (now known as the Sydney Bears) during his Down Under debut season, and he stayed with the team for several years while still returning to North America to play in the off-season. It helped the aspiring pro athlete’s schedule that Australia’s winters are North America’s summers and vice-versa.
But after being cut after a two-game tryout for the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Hockey League, he returned to Oz for good. Foll became the league’s leading scorer in the 1988-89 season, which coincided with his first appearance playing for the Australian national team, known as the Mighty Roos, in an International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Group C tournament held at home in Sydney.
“I think it was probably the biggest crowds of any tournament I’ve played in, and lots of people came out to all the games, not just ours.”
The Roos lost all seven games but Foll was hooked. He went on to play in a total of 16 IIHF tourneys, ending his international playing career with a total of 22 goals, 46 points and one bronze medal after the Roos defeated Hungary 8-1 in the C division in 1992. Foll also holds the record for captaining the most world championships of any player with a total of 12 after first donning the C in 1990.
For most Australians, “hockey” means the far more popular sport of field hockey, where the national men’s team is currently ranked number one and the women’s team is in fourth place. (For comparison, the Canadian men’s field hockey team is ranked 12th place and the women 18th.) Anyone who has visited Whistler in recent years can attest that Australians have an affinity for winter sports, yet so far ice hockey has yet to catch on the same way as skiing or snowboarding has.
“It is a sport that is catching on but there aren’t a lot of arenas, and that dictates how much the sport can grow,” said Foll. “In Adelaide, the city where I live now, we only have one arena and this is a city of 1.2 million people. Nationwide, competing with public skating and then figure skating is our biggest competitors for ice time. In our arena, it’s broomball that is the big one.”
Foll said the sport is nonetheless making strides and pointed to the example of forward Nathan Walker, 22, a third round draft pick by the Washington Capitals in 2014 currently playing for their Hershey Bears AHL farm team.
“He is the only true Australian who grew up playing hockey here to be drafted,” said Foll. “He wasn’t actually born in Australia, he was born in Wales but moved here when he was one-year-old or something.”
Oddly enough, while Foll has played the most games for Team Australia, the player with the most points also once skated on Surrey ice. Current Adelaide Adrenaline captain Greg Oddy, 36, of the eight-team Australian Ice Hockey League was briefly a member of the Surrey Eagles in his Junior A days back in 2001. The 6″1′ centreman went on to earn 135 points as a member of the Mighty Roos over 14 years, donning their green and yellow jersey for the last time in 2012 playing in the IIHF Group B division, where the Aussies once again came in last place.
The Roos are currently ranked 36th internationally, two places ahead of arch-rivals New Zealand and 35 spots behind Canada.
Although Foll never got to play for his adopted country at the Olympic level, he at least got to watch his original homeland win gold on home ice. Foll, who now runs a sports store specializing in ice hockey gear and is frequently in Canada to pick up new equipment, was back in the Lower Mainland during the 2010 Winter Games.
“My brother-in-law is the editor of a newspaper in Adelaide, and he was able to set me up as a correspondent,” said Foll, who remains active with the sport as both a coach and referee. “It was pretty amazing to be able to see so many of the big games. I was really lucky.”
While the press box may be as close as a captain of Team Australia ever gets to a Winter Olympics gold medal game, there’s always the chance broomball somehow becomes an Olympic sport.