Brian Bales - From Alaska to being Brave in Canberra
Sunday, April 16, 2017 - Submitted by Georgia Briggs
The start of the AIHL 2017 season is finally at our doorstep *cheers from the crowd* which means that the team line ups are out and anticipation is high. One of the Brave’s newest recruits is Brian Bales. You’ll remember him from his time with the Newcastle North Stars scoring an average of 2.43 points per game, winning the Goodall Cup in 2015 and being the League’s highest point scorer in 2010, only outdone by Geordie Wudrick in 2015!
We wanted to get to know Brian before he hits the ice on Saturday against the Mustangs, so here’s some important info about our newest recruit. Brian has been around the ice hockey scene for a while now, both in Australia and overseas and his record speaks for itself. But it all started, like many of our stars, on the makeshift ice of the street at a young age.
"I started skating when I was 3 years old. I’m originally from Alaska, and there is more ice than pavement there, it was inevitable that I would be involved in ice hockey in some sort of fashion." Since that humble beginning his has been all over the world playing the sport he loves and having many wonderful experiences in the process.
"I’ve had a number of successes in hockey, but to say I have a favourite moment is very difficult. What I would say is my best moments and most memorable ones have occurred with the fantastic people I’ve met, both on and off the ice, over the course of my hockey career. A lot of great stories to tell and a lot of great friends all over the world."
However, Brian finds his worst moment in hockey is easier to identify. "Losing game 5 (the final game) in the Clark Cup Championships back in Sioux City, Iowa. Why it was the worst moment had to do with the quality of the team we had on and off the ice. We battled as a group all year and deserved to win it just as much as the team that did win. And in the final game, the hockey gods were against us and nothing went our way. It was crushing."
Moving to the Brave was a big decision for Brian and he attributes his move to a number of reasons. "My decision was almost entirely career driven, given the bigger city, there are a lot more career opportunities for myself in this market. The Brave ownership have also been very supportive in helping explore and create opportunities. I am impressed by the professionalism of the program [at the Brave], what they have built so far in 3-4 years, and what their plans are for the future of the program. The program also has a good core of people that dedicate their time and energy into helping the program succeed. This includes the players, individuals off ice and some of the fans of the team. Without all of them, the program does not work."
Finally, Rob Starke being the new head coach was also a consideration in coming to Canberra. Brian simply says he’s most looking forward to the experiences of a new club. "Starting fresh and getting to know the new faces, and of course helping the team achieve success in 2017 and beyond."
Asking Brian what he believes he brings to the team besides offensive capability, Brian initially gave a facetious answer. "A left hand shot! (that’s a stab at Aussies, who seem to all be right hand shots) that can hopefully chip in a few goals and block a few shots." Further to this he also notes leading by example, helping to improve the younger generation and helping the team continue to be successful. Along with Rob Starke, Brian also gets to team back up with Brave converts Geordie Wudrick and Jan Safar. "All three are great guys, I had a lot of fun and success with all of them in 2015 and I don’t expect anything different in 2017."
Looking at his point scoring ability and a Goodall Cup win, Brian is, unsurprisingly, very humble. "I have always preferred to make an assist than a goal, so I am always looking to see who else is open before I look at taking a shot to score." [As for the Goodall Cup] I would say there is no secret recipe for winning in this League, other than, make sure you make the top 4 and bring your "A" game for the Finals’ Weekend. Anything can happen in the Finals. You just hope to play your best and hope the bounces roll your way."
Similarly, when asked about possible competition for the highest goal scorer for the 2017 season, Brian all but took himself out of the race. "Ha, no, I am at the point of my career where I measure any success by how the team does and not by what I achieve throughout the year. Besides, Geordie is a much better player than I ever was, so I am not sure it would be much a competition between us regardless. It will more likely be a battle between Blunden and Geordie for most points, hopefully whoever I am playing with, ends up with more points."
Along with his talent and left handed shot Brian has also brought his family to Canberra, another reason for coming to the Brave. "The family consists of my wife, Sarah, a born and bred Newcastle girl, and our 3 young children. Our kids are Indianna (3 years old), Blair (2 years old) and Ava (9 months old)."
"Having a young family, Rob [Starke] understands the challenges I face with having to manage being a parent, working full time and being able to play ice hockey. The AIHL season adds a lot of additional pressure on players to manage the responsibilities in their lives. Rob gets it, and he is very supportive and understanding of each guy’s individual situations."
"Sarah is happy to be a part of the adventure in Canberra, and is mostly happy to just see me play hockey again. Sarah has been blown away by the Brave’s fan following and their passion for the team and the game itself. I am not sure she knows what to expect from attending the games in Canberra…"
Looking ahead to the 7 th of May and the Brave’s first home game against his old club, Brian is very optimistic about being in the fans’ good graces. "I am actually looking forward to it, I know what it feels like to be the opposing team, and to face the hostilities of the Brave Cave. It will be nice to not have to deal with that. I am impressed and scared by their loyalty and passion for the game. Again, it will be nice to be cheered by them."
A few extra pieces of info about Brian is his favourite colour is green, he loves Mexican food and when he has time, which he notes is almost never now he’s a Dad, he loves to go fly fishing.
Lastly, in terms of the season ahead, Brian believes the Brave are in a good place. "I think the Brave have assembled a good group of guys and have a good coach in place to lead them. In 2017, I think the Brave will be a very strong team, and they have both a great chance of making the playoffs and winning the Goodall Cup. The last few years of making the finals has been good experience for the program. And hopefully this is the year to take the final step and win one."