Photo by Mal Coleman
The Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) is Australia’s premiere ice hockey league. The league is made of eight teams representing each state. The teams are Adelaide Adrenaline, CBR Brave – Canberra, Melbourne Ice, Melbourne Mustangs, Newcastle Northstars, Perth Thunder, Sydney Bears and the Sydney Ice Dogs. The AIHL also introduced the Australian Men’s hockey team in 2017. The team is known as The Mighty Roos and it represents Australia in the Olympics.
A game of ice hockey goes for three 20-minute periods, a total of one hour. The objective of the game is to score goals by shooting a hard-vulcanised rubber disc, known as a puck, into the opponent’s goal net.
This goal is placed at the opposite end of the rink. The players then use their hockey sticks to either pass or shoot the puck. The rules are that players are not allowed to use their feet or any body part to either kick or move the puck.
While the passion of the players runs high, Australia is clearly not ice hockey’s natural home. Snow and ice are not the only things thin on the ground. There is low player and spectator attendance, in comparison to many other sports played here in Australia.
According to 2012 statistics, back then there were only 3,200 registered ice hockey players in Australia and 22 ice rinks used for recreational, educational and private use. The other significant factor is the costs for a player to be involved. A set of lax gear costs $565 with the helmet being the most expensive at around $200.
The tide may be turning for the sport though as Cockburn Hawks Ice hockey club’s President, Tom Boschman, said that after many years out in the cold, the sport of Ice hockey is now growing quite rapidly. The Hawks now have 250 players in 16 teams that compete in all divisions in the WA Ice Hockey League.
He said: “This is due to the expansion, in only recent years, of more ice arenas around Australia.” He explained that ice arenas were not cheap to run in hot climates, and that the cost was often handed on to leagues and teams that rent them for rehearsals and competition. But that more arenas meant more competition and lower rents, which in turn is making the sport more affordable and bringing in more players.”
Looking on the bright-side he said: “The icing on the cake is, that with more players getting involved in the sport, the stronger it will grow.”
Noting recent increases in the number of junior divisions in the WA competition, he added: “With more juniors now enabled to play ice hockey, it is a good indication that we are building the future of this sport. The same way as footy has through its junior development.”
Boschman, also gives credit for the club’s expansion to hard work by the sports’ WA founders.
“In our case, I think it is all the hard work and input, my predecessors have put in. Obviously it’s not an overly easy thing, to get a minority sport off the ground. I take my hat off to those guys who built the relationship, with both the community and the Cockburn Ice Arena, to enable it to grow.”
The options for WA ice hockey hopefuls are clubs like the Cockburn Hawks that compete in the WA State League and the Perth Thunder is a semi-professional team It is based at Perth Ice Arena in the Perth industrial suburb of Malaga.
I tried contacting people from the skating and ice hockey community last week to talk about the upcoming season but with the exception of Boschman,they proved to be extremely media shy. Initially none of the ice rinks except one returned my numerous phone calls. I was turned away from the Perth Ice Arena when I turned up to talk to people about why they love the sport.
I found the response very surprising, given that, this is a sport that only until recently, lacked in participation in both players and interested audiences. I must have been wrong to assume, that they would have welcomed the media’s interest in getting greater exposure.