Thursday, July 14, 2016 - Submitted by Georgia Briggs
Half way through the 2015 season, Josh Unice moved from goalie to coach for the CBR Brave, under some rather scary circumstances. Out from under the mask, Unice has been described by game announcers as “the man, the myth, the legend”. theAIHL.com sat down with him to debunk a bit of that myth.
Growing up in the US, it was “just me, my Mum and my Grandma.” Unice was introduced to ice hockey by his Mum at an early age, but had a surprising catalyst to spark his initial interest.
“I fell in love with the Zamboni,” Unice laughed. “I use to actually fall asleep during the game and wake up just to watch the Zamboni.”
He started skating lessons when he was around 4 years old and by 9 was trying out for an All-Stars Team, which sealed his future as a goalie.
“I always liked the goalie,” Unice said. “[I went to] the try outs and my Mum had told me she didn’t care what I tried out for just as long as it wasn’t goalie. The first two try outs, no goalie turned up so they said if someone put on the goalie gear they wouldn’t cut us and we could try out for a forward later. The third try out came and I just wasn’t really that good as a forward so I stayed in goalie and ended up making the team. I got grounded by Mum.”
Since that time Unice has played in some amazing teams and he notes under some amazing coaches, climbing up the ranks to be drafted in the NHL as a 3rd round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007 and represent his country internationally in under 17’s, 18’s and 20’s. He notes these two achievements as his best moments in hockey.
“Getting drafting in the NHL was a pretty special moment,” Unice said. “It was probably the last time I’ve actually seen my mum be very, very emotional. I owe everything I have to her. She put me in the position to be able to succeed so getting to see her be so proud was something very special.”
“My first game with the US National Team was also pretty special. Not many people get to put on their country’s colours at an International level; it was pretty massive.”
As for a worst moment in hockey, AIHL fans may not be surprised to hear it was that infamous game in Unice’s career last season.
“Definitely when the net hit me just below my back plate last year,” Unice said. “I’ve never in my life been into an emergency room, I’ve never been in an ambulance and crossing all those off at once was pretty scary.”
“Coming to terms with the fact that your hockey career is probably over and it really wasn’t something I could control obviously with last year and everything that happened. It was a tough moment and it didn’t become real until teams called me to play this year and I just had to say ‘no’.”
But Unice also acknowledges it was “a blessing in disguise”.
“It’s given me a huge opportunity here in Canberra and I get to grow hockey and be the head guy at one of the best organisations in Australian Ice Hockey. Like I said, it was sad at the beginning but it’s grown into something that’s pretty much a dream come true.”
Moving from player to coach is always a difficult task and Unice notes some of the ups and downs of the change.
“Everything is a learning curve,” Unice admitted. “I was lucky enough to play under some of the best coaches in the game. Pretty much every coach I’ve had since I was 15 is now either in the AHL or NHL coaching. So it was good to see how they go running things and doing things but at the same time, it’s like everything in life, you just have to keep learning and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
“The biggest adjustment is just that at the end of the day, no matter what happened on the ice as a goalie, I had the last say. Now I see something, I’d see it and I’d want to do everything in my power to stop it but you can’t do that when you’re standing on that bench. It comes with difficulties, but at the same time new and exciting things come from it as well.”
The good news for Brave fans is that, like his players, the coach has his eye on the prize. Asked his number one ice hockey goal, Unice shot back “to bring a championship to Canberra”, without a seconds pause.
“I think the Brave have done really well with the obstacles we’ve had to overcome,” Unice stated. “I’ve never in my life seen injuries that happen in the rate they have happened at the first part of this year. But it’s a credit to the guys in the locker room, working through it. Short benches, hurt imports, playing down imports, guys playing defence that are usual forward and vice versa, it’s a credit to the individuals in the room.”
Outside of ice hockey, Unice is a busy man.
“I study law at ANU and try to keep up to date with everyone at home,” Unice said. “My fiancé’s over there right now so I’m pretty busy with the time change and the school load. We’re getting married next year, so it’s pretty interesting to be planning a wedding literally from the other side of the world.”
His reasoning for studying law is three fold and rather amusing in parts.
“My mum is an anaesthesiologist in the US and always said I needed to do something that would keep me in the lifestyle I’ve grown accustom to,” he laughed. “I’ve always liked to argue and hold people accountable and it’s still a very successful job, so that’s pretty much why we went with law.”
His number one non-ice hockey goal is to be a successful lawyer.
Asked what’s the one thing people should know about Josh, his answer was as sincere as it was strong.
“I do smile!”
“Everyone thinks I’m some serial murderer but you know, I always have been a very focused and determined individual and coaching doesn’t change that. I use to be behind a mask so not everyone could see my face all the time, and on the bench I’m looked at as this super serious controlling person and it’s just, I hate to lose, and that’s just something I do. I guess I’m a sore loser but at the same time I just want to do everything in my power to win a hockey game.”
Here’s a couple of quick things about Unice:
His favourite food is pizza.
His favourite colours are black, white and blue.
His favourite things about Canberra are “that everyone is just very caring and everyone knows everyone but at the same time you can always escape, you can get out. There’s little shops and town centres around, it’s not that big huge City feel but at the same time it’s got everything you need right at your grasp.”
His least favourite thing about Canberra is how badly it’s talked about.
His favourite pastime other than hockey is American Football.
His favourite movies are Slap Shot and Sudden Death. “They’re both hockey movies”.
If he had a whole weekend to do whatever he wanted, he’d do absolutely nothing and enjoy the break.
His favourite childhood memory is going to Disneyland with his mum… multiple times a year.
The best way to get an immediate smile out of Unice is to bring his fiancé along, "she definitely makes me the happiest." But if she's not available, cute animals are also a good option. “I’m a big softy for dogs, or just animals, I’m a big animal lover.”