Chill time spurring Rene Hunter’s hockey revival

By Adam Clifford

Boxing superstar Anthony Joshua famously revealed he used his love of the Game of Thrones smash-hit television series as motivation against his rivals, declaring his holding four belts to be like ruling the seven Kingdoms.

Character Jon Snow is presented as an outcast to the Stark family who joins the Night’s Watch, guarding the far northern borders from the wildlings living beyond The Wall.

Whilst he is initially killed off, Snow later is resurrected, and his renaissance is marked by the retaking of Winterfell from House Bolton and becoming King in the North.

The Canberra Chill women have similarly utilised the phrase ‘Winter is Coming’ to demonstrate confidence in their Sultana Bran Hockey One League finals chances and upon closer inspection, the comparisons do not end there.

Like Snow, Rene Hunter had no accession to the throne of being number one goalkeeper at the NSW Pride, a position owned by Hockeyroos regular Jocelyn Bartram.

The 26-year-old shot stopper naturally jumped at the opportunity to defend the goal of the Canberra Chill.

“I love playing for Canberra. The girls have welcomed me into the fold as one of their own,” Hunter says.

“It’s great to see hockey starting to build a name for itself. The promotion that the league has put into this season is excellent to see, and it’s also great to see crowds building at games and having a designated studio on Fox Sports.”

Hunter’s heroics in goal have been eye-catching to say the least, with some big saves pulled off to assist the Chill to two important away wins against the Brisbane Blaze and Tassie Tigers in their opening three matches.

But few could appreciate the genuine adversity that Hunter has endured to reach this point, with the former Jillaroos goalkeeper effectively losing three years of her development through a rare diagnosis.

“My wrists have both required reconstructive surgeries, including the two plates and fourteen pins which are still in place, split evenly between both arms,” Hunter explains.

“It was quite a difficult time, especially as it took over a year to diagnose what had actually happened to my right wrist and then this led to three years of essentially being one armed between each arm.”

A hockey insider reveals further that given Hunter played at the 2016 Junior World Cup, were it not for her injuries Hunter would be in the current Hockeyroos set up.

“She would be in the Aussie team in my opinion but had to have 3mm of bone removed from both of her forearms to create space in her wrist.

They thought she had an ultra-rare bone disease, so forced her to immobilise her wrist for twelve months. Then they found out it was a misdiagnosis. She had one wrist treated, then after recovering from that, the issue began in her other wrist. That cost her 2-3 years out of the game, and she missed opportunities, but prior, she was arguably a better shootout keeper than (Rachael) Lynch…,” the insider explains.

While acknowledging that the whole experience of having hockey essentially ripped from her life at a crucial stage in her high-performance journey was mentally exhausting, Hunter prioritised her time to focus on her professional career outside of the sport.

After completing three diplomas and a Bachelors degree in just five years, Hunter continued to be a high achiever off the field and is currently the Head of Field Sales Australia and New Zealand for the Kraft Heinz Company.

“Hockey had almost become a part of my identity. On an upside to losing it, I was able to apply myself in a professional sense in the same manner that I did with my hockey.”

“Understanding that with practice you don’t become perfect, you just become better than you were.”

Hunter kept herself highly engaged with the sport though, mentoring and coaching young goalkeepers – something she credits to the influence of NSW goalkeeping coach Aaron McCarthy.

“I genuinely think that if it wasn’t for his support, I wouldn’t just not be here today, but possibly, not playing at all.”

“But in addition to that, the coaching made me think about goalkeeping from another perspective, forcing me to better understand my role as a keeper. Then it was also the joy that the young keepers showed in our sessions that really kept my passion for the game alive.”

That passion is certainly alive and well, with Hunter producing a string of impressive showings for the Canberra Chill, including a clean sheet against the Tassie Tigers, wearing noticeably smaller pads than her opposing keepers.

Hunter says the use of smaller pads wasn’t initially a move seeking to gain an advantage with her mobility, but simply came at the suggestion of her Grandpa.

“I just love my small pads, I’m just more comfortable in them. They might make me more mobile but in reality, it’s the speed work and agility training I do outside of games that makes the difference. Plus, they’re red and we all know red is faster,” Hunter jokes.

After such a remarkable return against the odds to starring in the Sultana Bran Hockey One League, Hunter could well come under consideration for higher honours, not that her mentality has shifted focus.

“The main goal still remains the same for me and that is to be the best goalkeeper I possibly can be.”

“(Through my own personal journey) I’ve come to realise that you need to also focus on your micro goals, which for me I’ve realised is just having fun, getting back to this point in the Hockey One League and enjoying my time with the girls.”

Canberra shot to the top of the table after last night’s narrow 1-0 win over Adelaide Fire, setting them up for a genuine title tilt, and Hunter believes they have the right mix to challenge.

“The Chill have a great mix of girls, from the players that have been here for as long as I can remember, players coming back in from Hockeyroos duties, some amazing young talent coming up through the ranks and of course our internationals from New Zealand and Japan.”

Hockey One opponents should fear the Chill, given Hunter declares they are drawing inspiration from Jon Snow, who put it best when he declared, “The true enemy won’t wait out the storm. He brings the storm.”