What it’s like to play hockey in Australia

Earlier this week, Jason McFadyen of Resolution Media sent me a an e-mail asking for a little promotion for a documentary series his company is putting together entitled “The Ice – Road to 3 peat” about Australian hockey. Australia! Hockey! It was modeled after 24/7 on HBO, and it’s about the Melbourne Ice, an Aussie team in a bid for a third straight championship. I’m not usually one give out free plugs, so I made Jason work for it.  I asked him to go into some deal about the league, specifically “How long has it been around, where did it get started, how do they find rinks and ice time (or really anything with the logistics), have there been any tweaks to the rules to accommodate the game Down Under, etc. Jason was kind enough to respond in a robust, informative e-mail. Please read on and be informed. The words are all Jason’s with few edits.

Australian hockey players face enormous challenges, most of which you’ve picked up on.
Financial is obviously the biggest one.  Melbourne though is a sports mad
town so when The Melbourne Ice left their suburban ‘barn’ in Oakleigh to
the new ice facility in the heart of the city, it was no problem to go
from 300 in a crowd to 1500 – and the word is spreading.   Being blessed
with this new facility (The Icehouse) and having sold out most games since
its opening 3 years ago, gives ‘The Ice’ an advantage.

It also puts the team and the league in a difficult position as the sport
has a growth spurt that its trying to manage as best it can.  It’s a
national league and there are a lot of teams that struggle to even get on
a plane for road trips (Considering the longest one is 2245 miles – Perth
to Brisbane) so the costs are enormous and sponsorship is hard to raise
when the country is dominated by Australian Rules Football and Rugby
League.  Actually its dominated by pretty much everything other than ice
sports.    So most teams struggle financially but that doesn’t mean the
Melbourne Ice rule the competition.  In fact they have been beaten twice
this year by the top team and rival, Newcastle North Stars.  They’ve been
beaten by plenty of other teams as well and most don’t have the luxury of
new ice.

The league itself has been around for 10 years, although the trophy the
teams fight for, The Goodall Cup is the fifth oldest hockey trophy and who
knows how that all came about and is a bit of research I would like to do
more on.  It amazes me how the game of hockey has been played here for
over 100 years and I remember as a kid that Melbourne itself had at least
3 rinks that Mum and Dad used to drag me around to on a Saturday night to
free skate.   Most of these rinks closed down in the 80’s though so the
introduction of the Icehouse has seemed to awaken a sleeping ice sports
giant.  There are two rinks at the Icehouse and I cant recall walking into
the building when it hasn’t been filled with free skaters, figure skaters,
speed skaters and hockey players.  This makes it tough to get ice time but
everyone seems to get their share but like I said earlier, they have the
luxury of a beautiful new ice surface and some cool Zambonis.  As you can
see in Episode 3 when the team went up to the Gold Coast the battered rink
struggled to stay frozen in the warm conditions.  This meant the Gold
Coast Blue Tongues had to relocate for the remainder of the season and
they’re lucky to get any ice time at all.  I think their first few games
in their new home meant being slotted into 10.30pm Friday night game
times.  Hard to get fans out for that but it really shows the guts of this
league and its teams for sticking it out and now they are back in
contention for the playoffs.

The game itself here in AUS is the same although I’ve copied from the AIHL
website some detail on the rules below.

he AIHL plays under IIHF rules, with a few modifications from Ice Hockey
Australia (IHA).
There are some other variations, including the AIHL standard game of 3x 15
minute periods.
Extending and or transitioning the AIHL games to 3x 20 minute period was
discussed at the 2010 and 2011 AGMs but was unsuccessful for the following
Availability of AIHL-level non-import players to fill four lines
Cost of extra required ice time
Keep AIHL games friendly for new hockey fans
Extra cost of travel for a larger team

Its also a larger rink size.

The other interesting part of the league is the imports.  Each team is
allowed 6 imports and play 4 at any one time.  Reasons why the guys come
out here to play vary from study, to girlfriends, to the milder winter
climate but they all bring fantastic experience and hockey stories.  Doug
Wilson Jnr (Son of Hall of Fame Defender Doug Wilson Snr) is here this
year and he’s been a huge asset to the team with his knowledge of the game
and the NHL as an organisation – not to mention he’s a top bloke.  All the
guys are fantastic though and they’ve welcomed us into their team in what
must be a surreal experience with camera crews following their every move.
4 years ago if someone took a team photo of them it was a big deal.

Filming the doco series has been incredible and Its hard to describe how
much drama has gone on this season that no one expected.  Even the coaches
tell us how last year nothing really happened on their way to their second
Goodall Cup but this year even baffles them.   We’d like to think its more
than just a sport doco following a bunch of blokes that happen to play ice
hockey.  Their passion for the game, the way the volunteers on every level
from team managers, coaches and gate staff work seamlessly to keep the
boys on track and the reasons why they play hockey in a country that has
no right to say “We love hockey”.  But we do and that goes for the guys
filming it as well.  We’re all hockey fans that have had our own share of
hockey experiences that have included a 3 day (including flights) trip to
LA to catch a few games to knocking on Gretzkys door in Brantford and
being taken through his trophy room.   Being fans of the game has
definitely made all the hours filming and editing the TV series worthwhile
and why your help promoting it will go a long way in getting a network to
pick it up so it gets shown to fans around the world and hopefully, grow
the sport in a positive way. 

A big thanks to Jason McFadyen for the instructional on hockey in places that we wouldn’t typically find it. I hope you all found it as interesting as I did. The site for the series is www.ice3peat.com, while you can watch live streaming action on the Melbourne Ice’s team page via melbourneice.com.au. It’s the playoffs from Newcastle, Australia! After all, we may not have any here for a while. 

About Ryan Henning

Ryan has been working online since 2003 and is presently the proprietor of Barry Melrose Rocks, The Rhino and Compass and The Weather Blog at Victoria-Weather.