Imagine a scenario where an elite Australian athlete, let’s say, for example, a field hockey player, with great co-ordination, bulging muscles and an appetite to try, well, something new, moves to Canada because he is sick of field hockey and wants to give ice hockey a shot with the Montreal Canadiens.
Now imagine that he struggles, mightily, but bit by bit masters our game and four years later is skating around Montreal’s Bell Centre with an Australian flag draped about his shoulders, celebrating his team’s Stanley Cup victory.
It sounds preposterous, that is, until one considers the curious case of Mike Pyke, a strapping lad with bulging muscles from Victoria, B.C. The 28-year-old was a Canadian national team rugby player until he got sick of the game and moved to Australia four years ago to give Australian Rules Football — a sport he had only ever watched on late-night TV and that is about as different from rugby as high jumping is from pole vaulting — a shot with the Sydney Swans, the game’s most storied franchise.
Four years later, on a late September night in Melbourne in a stadium crammed with 100,000 screaming fans, and with millions more watching at home, there was our Mike Pyke, who struggled mightily, at first, among the heroes for the Swans as they beat the Hawthorn Hawks in the “Grand Final.”