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The slapshot solicitor

Joshua Derko

If former Canadian ice hockey pro Joshua Derko extends his playing career next season after graduating as a Juris Doctor of Law this week, the TV commentators will have a couple of readymade nicknames to choose from.

Derko is one of two imports for Australian Ice Hockey League franchise the Brisbane Lightning.

So, how did a would-be Canadian lawyer, with an undergrad degree in Native Studies, end up playing ice hockey in Australia? 

Alberta Provincial Court Judge Jim Wheatley is a family friend and the one who planted the seed about studying at Bond University.

“His advice was don’t waste your time with the LSAT, go to Australia,’’ he said.

“The Gold Coast is one of the most beautiful places in the world and the education is great, the facilities are amazing, and it will be a great experience.’’

Although primarily a defensive oriented player, Derko has still sent the puck thundering past the goaltender and into the back of the net 78 times in a career spanning close to 400 games.

He was good enough to earn a call-up to the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks but his first training camp was cut short when he blew-out his knee.

It was the first of three major knee injuries, each requiring surgery, that would ultimately lead him to transition off the ice and into a courtroom.

In Canada, where every kid is born on the ice and each dream of a career in the pros, education is by necessity woven into the fabric of the game.

The deal for aspiring pros is that a year of free education is provided for every season they play.

“My agent just said, use the schooling you can always come back later,’’ he said.


After four years out of the game Derko believed his playing days where behind him when he arrived at Bond University. Nothing he encountered on those brutal first weeks would make him feel differently.

The temperature was minus 35C the day he departed Canada and he must have felt he had arrived in hockey hell when the Gold Coast greeted him with 32C and humidity nudging 90 per cent.

Unbeknown to him, the Brisbane Lightning had just been handed a licence by the AIHL. A roster was assembled to play 15 exhibition matches in 2022 ahead of full-time entry into the national league for 2023.

A Canadian who was familiar with Derko’s exploits heard he was in town and suggested the Lightning give him a call.

What he initially thought would be a quirky story to tell friends back home became cathartic.

“It was a great opportunity for me too because it always felt with injuries and surgery after surgery, that it (hockey) was taken away,” he said.

“It has been an unbelievable experience.’’ 

Joshua Derko

Derko has been completing the Profession Legal Training component of his degree at Gold Coast tax and corporate advisory firm ABA Legal Group and will start full time with the firm in January.

And with childhood sweetheart Emily Armstrong having joined him on the Gold Coast, the door is ajar for another season with the Lightning and he admits to being sorely tempted. However, instead of the knees it is the thought of walking into work as a freshly admitted lawyer with a black eye that worries him.

Ice hockey and punch ups go together like pancakes and maple syrup.

But at 28-years-of-age, he had hoped to enjoy the final instalment of his career without the enforcer tag. 

“Actually, my first game I ended up getting into a fight and I didn’t want to, at all,’’ he said.

“The Aussies loved it.

“He jumped me, and we went at it and all I was thinking was, I’ve got a test on Tuesday, and I can’t break my hand.’’

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