AIHL, the new national league….2000 onwards
Adelaide Avalanche’s Josh Harding gets wiped out in 2006 Adelaide Adrenaline import Cole MacMillan carves through the Perth Thunder defence
The Oddy and Thilthorpe families created the Adelaide Avalanche team so that their kids could play at the highest level of ice hockey in Australia. The fledgling Adelaide Avalanche team ventured over to Sydney to play the Macquarie Bears, Canterbury (Eagles?) and Canberra. The following year saw the creation of the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) with three teams including Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra. It was the Avalanche that would win back to back championships in 2000 and 2001.
2000 Adelaide Avalanche championship winning team (photo: John Botterill)
The competition then became in some ways an expanded NSW Superleague as a six team competition in 2002, and then eight teams in 2005. Consideration was given to the possibility of teams from Western Australia or New Zealand, but travel costs were prohibitive at the time.
The highlight of 2005 for the AIHL was the drafting of Acting Captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Steve McKenna, one of the tallest players to put on the skates in the NHL (Zdeno Chara was the other ‘tall’)! The Adelaide Avalanche accidentally scored the talented and likeable player due to the NHL lockout where NHL players needed to find ‘somewhere’ to play for the year until the pay dispute was sorted. Rumour has it David Clarke from the British Superleague who had played for the Adelaide Avalanche (along with fellow British import David Liddiard) had suggested he come on over after Steve had played with him in England. Steve loved Adelaide, and Adelaide loved Steve. Steve loved the Aussie way of life and even bought a house in Adelaide, however his partner had some visa issues that delayed her coming her to live sooner. McKenna was to go on to coach the Australian team. Sadly, he and the new owner of the Adelaide Avalanche had some differences and ice hockey in Adelaide and Australia was the loser as Steve left the team. Several players on the team were disgruntled at this move and 5 players left also, leaving a massive gap in the team. The Avalanche was never the same afterwards, fielding basically many junior players, and with sponsorship drying up it the owner requested the team play all their home games first up, basically no money to fly the team out. Reality hit when the first interstate game was due and the team folded (see below) much to the disappointment of the diehard fans and Adelaide ice hockey community. In 2007 the owner introduced new jerseys, the now famous Yeti Avalanche.
Melbourne seemed to be absent from the early comp days (we never really found out why but there was a strong local Melbourne competition). The newer teams to join the AIHL were Gold Coast (formerly Brisbane) Bluetongues and Central Coast Rhinos (based at Erina on the NSW Central Coast). When Melbourne (Ice) eventually joined the competition they sent a clear message to the rest of the team, the Ice was here to win! The Bluetongues were to have some issues with home rinks and eventually were forced to withdraw from the AIHL, but not until after they had managed to sign up ex-NHLer Rob Zamuner (who had played for the NY Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins. It was only a matter of time before Melbourne entered a second team, the young Mustangs outfit who’s motto was to give homegrown talent a go before imports (but that would of course change later). After spending a few years at Penrith, the Bears relocated back towards the centre of Sydney. The Canberra Knights, known for having a few Finnish players were to undergo some turmoil, only to re-emerge as the competitive CBR Brave.
The 2017 comp now comprises: Adelaide Adrenaline (formerly Avalanche and A’s until the end of 2008), Sydney Bears, Newcastle Northstars, Sydney (formerly West Sydney) Ice Dogs, CBR Brave (formerly Canberra Knights), Melbourne Ice, Melbourne Mustangs and new boys on the block Perth Thunder. The Central Coast Rhinos opted to withdraw from the competition in 2009 and 2010 and joined a rogue ‘beer league’ type of competition.
Fact: In the AIHL the team that finishes as minor premiers NEVER seem to win the championship….just ask Adelaide who have been there a few times!
Adelaide Adrenaline comes to town
My local team was always the Adelaide Avalanche which as of mid-June 2008 folded. The team went through some issues on and off the ice and in the end was forced to fold after being there since the inception of the AIHL.
However, the Ice Arena management (of the Adelaide ice hockey venue) and SA Ice Sports Federation(?) secured a licence for a new team, the Adelaide A’s to play out the rest of the 2008 season. This was only a generic name until 2009 when the ‘true’ new team the Adelaide Adrenaline emerged. It was sad to see the name ‘Adelaide Avalanche’ disappear after all those good years and especially to see the team finish almost last. However the new energetic and professional management under Charlie Vaughton and head coach John Botterill and many volunteers ensured the team rose and stayed at the pointy end of the competition for many years!
Some of the senior players left out in the cold (so to speak) from the Avalanche team (for reasons that shall not be discussed here) returned to the Adelaide A’s which is what the diehard fans want to see. Sadly 2008 saw the retirement of Adelaide legend, Trevor Walsh, renown for playing a hard but high scoring game and was amongst the best players in the National team when Australia has played in Div II World Championships.
The Avalanche years of 2005, 2006 and 2007 contained the old favourites, Trevor Walsh, Luke and Ben Thilthorpe, Chris Brlecic as well as 2007 imports Remillard, Numminen, Ballman, Van den Bosch and also Steve McKenna (ex-captain of the NHL team Pittsburgh Penguins), Darcy Corcoran etc.
The 2008 season was a dismal one for the Adelaide Avalanche and the Adelaide ice hockey community. This resulted from a lot of off-field incidents and a different team line-up all contributing. However some of the interstate teams fielded very strong teams and recruited well. There were more tied games resulting in shootouts than the team cared to remember. With the Adelaide A’s installed and some old campaigners back the Adelaide team triumphed in most of these shootouts but sadly they needed maximum points given their lowly position on the ladder. Overtime wins weren’t going to be enough and the result was the gallant A’s didn’t make the finals and finished close to last, if not last. No Adelaide team in the finals for as long as anyone in Adelaide can remember.
Saturday 16 August 2009 was a sad day for ice hockey in Adelaide as long time crowd favourite Trevor Walsh announced his retirement. He was one of Adelaide ice hockey’s favourite players since 1999. Trevor was renown for his hard hitting game as well as his reliability scoring many goals. Trevor played in several of Australia’s World Championship games also so has had a pretty illustrious and successful year. Trevor has since moved to Brisbane, and couldn’t resist the lure of the ice and became a player for the Gold Coast Bluetongues. Trevor’s scorecard reads as follows (Year – goals, assists, penalty minutes).
1999 – 12G, 6A, 71mins; 2000 – 10G, 11A, 53mins; 2001 – 11G, 18A, 82mins; 2002 – 14G, 3A, 14mins; 2003 – 23G, 22A, 70mins; 2004 – 16G, 10A, 110mins; 2005 – 17G, 10A, 75mins; 2006 – 9G, 9A, 30mins; 2007* – 3G, 0A; 2008* – 3G, 4A (* incomplete year & stats)
One you won’t see again, the glass/perspex has long been boarded up. Adelaide Adrenaline playing Canberra Knights in mid 2009.
2008 saw the emergence of the Women’s National Competition and Adelaide was represented by the Adelaide Assassins, together with the Sydney Sirens, Brisbane Goannas and a team from Melbourne. Adelaide ended up taking out the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 series.
World Championships played in Australia, and Australia‘s recent successes on the World stage
In 2008 Newcastle hosted the World Championships for Australia’s Division II games. The rink was upgraded and no longer resembled a prawn trawler with a massive fishing net around the rink. It is now enveloped in glass all the way around, something that benefits the fan’s viewing and ensures Newcastle ice rink’s longevity and reputation as one of the best ice rinks in the country. I just wished we could lose those pesky nets in Adelaide! The Championship saw a close grand final with Australia beating China 1-0 and advancing to Division I and finally being treated seriously as a ice hockey nation. It was also significant as we celebrated the centenary of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Further to this is the fact that Australia only has a small population base of just 21 million compared with other countries competing and that this country is summer centric, and not a traditional winter sport nation.
Sadly Australia did not fair well in the 2010 World Div I in Lithuania after losing key Adelaide player Greg Oddy with a broken jaw 11 minutes into the first game and defender David Huxley with a separated shoulder. Australia was winless at the end and were relegated back to Division II as the top ranked team. The 2010 Div II championships were played in Mexico and the Australians held their heads up high finishing second behind Spain, but there’s always next time!
International ice rink at Docklands
In 2010 new national ice hockey rinks opened at Docklands, Melbourne and is known as The Ice House. This will ultimately spell the end of AIHL teams having to venture to one of the worst regarded ice rinks in the country, and as of 2010 the former home of the Melbourne Ice at Oakleigh (these are comments from Adelaide fans that have watched games there!). The new rinks will be a state of the art ice sports venue featured two international sized rinks and will no doubt host many future AIHL finals as well as International championships, eg 2011 World Div II.
In 2011 another team from Melbourne, the Melbourne Mustangs joins the competition and showed late last year in a few exhibition games that they could be quite competitive. In 2010 several of the teams ventured west to play a few exhibition games against the Perth (Western Australian) outfit, as part of a trial for a future team from that state to join the competition, maybe as early as 2012. Several more trial games against Perth are scheduled for 2011 and New Zealand is also sniffing at the door!
In 2012 it’s a whole new ball game….well you know what I mean! The introduction of the Perth Thunder into the AIHL gave the organisers the opportunity to look at savings for the league and the decision was made to divide up the teams into 2 conferences, the Easton Conference and the Bauer Conference. The new format results in teams playing other teams in their own conference twice at home, and the teams in the other conference once at home.
An experiment using two conferences was shelved after one year. The Easton Conference comprised Melbourne Ice, Melbourne Mustangs, Adelaide Adrenaline, Gold Coast Bluetongues and Perth Thunder. The Bauer Conference comprises Newcastle Northstars, Penrith Bears, Sydney Ice Dogs and Canberra Knights.
The 2017 AIHL teams