By Henrik Manninen – IIHF.com
With newcomers Australia hunting for a medal at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A, Wehebe Darge is enjoying hockey to such an extent that he has not had an off-season break for six years.
Clocking up three wins and one defeat during the tournament, the men from Down Under have been the surprise package in Galati, Romania. Entering the last round of games in second spot and trailing leaders Romania by one point, Australia’s return to Division IIA has been a success.
When Australia slumped to their first defeat during day four at the Division IIA staged in Romania, it had been a contrasting contest on a number of levels. While their conquerors Romania fielded a team of professionals with 80 competitive matches each under their belt this season, newly promoted Australia was quickly trying to get into shape ahead of their looming season. One of the few exceptions on the Australian team was Wehebe Darge.
“Ahead of coming to Europe, the majority on our team had not been out on ice for the last three-four months. For me it was a bit different, as my team Peterborough Phantoms had just been knocked out of the play-offs, so I felt in great shape,” said the 25-year-old forward Darge, who this season has been plying his trade in the English Premier Ice Hockey League (EPIHL).
While the Australian team had acclimatized themselves during a week-long training camp in Czech Republic, a fully fit Darge led the way for Australia as they steamed ahead right from the outset at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A.
He scored their opener in their first game, a 4-3 win in over-time against one of the pre-tournament favourites Serbia. It was a win which set the tone for Australia in Galati. The newcomers then downed a plucky Iceland 3-2 and followed it up by overcoming Spain 5-3. While the hard grit and workmanship in the Australian team can be epitomized by bearded captain Lliam Webster, plenty of silky skills and speed is also on offer within the Australian camp where the first line of Darge teaming up with Beau Taylor and Josef Rezek has been their main attacking threat this week.
Darge, now representing Australia in his sixth World Championship at senior level, made his debut as a teenager winning a silver medal in Mexico City during the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A. It was a proud moment for the Adelaide-born forward who three years earlier had left his family and friends behind to move to Quebec, Canada in pursuit of hockey glory.
“When I was 15, we had a Canadian coach back home in Adelaide who told me that if I wanted to make a career out of this I would need to go overseas. I was put in contact with a school that took on international players and I took the chance, and here we are,” he said of a decision that set him on course for a hockey odyssey across the world.
Since then Darge’s unfading passion for hockey has taken him to far-flung places such as Alaska and Florida in the USA, Finland, Belgium and Great Britain. As off-season arrived in Europe and North America, he has made his return back home to play for Adelaide Adrenaline in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) before once again setting out on a new adventure during hockey seasons that never seem to end.
As Australia play against Belgium during their final game of the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A, both teams are in contention for medals. Darge hope to get the better of a few familiar faces from his time in Belgium playing for Chiefs Leuven during the 2015/16 season.
“Belgium’s Vincent Morgan was playing in Australia and he was the one who started to get me to Belgium originally. At Chief Leuven I played under Belgium’s national team coach Gil Paelinck and together with Maxime Pellegrims,” he said.
While the Australian senior national team might have faint hopes to re-enact the feat of their U18 national men’s national team, who during the last two seasons celebrated two successive promotions, Darge is looking to add another medal to his collection and cap off a fine performance in Galati before giving himself a treat after years of non-stop hockey.
“Having played hockey for six years straight and not having a month off since 2012, I plan to go surfing in Mexico for a month and then be ready when the Australian season starts,” said Darge who already has plans in place further ahead this year. “I will continue to enjoy hockey while also seeing new places, so I am hoping to be playing in France once the European season starts,” said Darge.