National Ice Hockey League (NIHL)

Ice Hockey in Adelaide….the National Ice Hockey League of the early 1980’s


Early days

I have followed ice hockey in Adelaide, South Australia for 33 years, but began skating at the little ‘ole rink upstairs in Hindley Street way back in about 1969! (I think the place is now an adult entertainment establishment with ‘horse’ in the title!).  I can still remember seeing the ice hockey team’s logos on the back wall of the rink and a very very small grandstand was (no big ice hockey fan crowds back then).  The local comp comprised the Tigers, Blackhawks, Falcons, Redwings but I think there was also a Capitals logo on the wall.  Fact:  Ice hockey in Australia was first played in Adelaide, not the more highly populated eastern states.

1980-1982 National Ice Hockey League

In 1979 Adelaide, South Australia acquired a state of the art ice rink called the South Australian Ice Centre.  It was regarded at the time as the best ice rink in the Southern Hemisphere, being international size and could seat 2,000+ spectators. The Payneham Ice Rink was a fantastic rink, where I spent many a time skating.  The most infamous thing was the cold pies from the vending machines ;-).  (many thanks go to Steve Newbound for supplying programs, newspaper articles etc of the NIHL)












SA Ice Centre info card of the early 1980’s (public skating midnight to 3am!, ice hockey 5pm on Saturday).                         Payneham Flyers logo


The same building in 2010

In about 1979 the owners of 7 ice rinks in Australia got together and created the National Ice Hockey League to begin playing in 1980, the first national competition of its kind in Australia, other than the Goodall Cup, a state versus state competition.

The original 1980 NIHL teams were:

New South Wales – Newcastle Northstars, Sydney Allstars;

Victoria – Oakleigh Aces (became the Golds in 1981), Ringwood Rangers, Dandenong Blackhawks, Footscray Pirates;

South Australia – Adelaide Flyers (became the Payneham Flyers in 1981).


1980 NIHL Schedule (courtesy: Steve Newbound)

In the first year of the NIHL (1980), Adelaide finished in last place in the 7 team competition with only 2 wins, largely as a result of lack of depth and competitive spirit according to coach Kevin Brown.  Two young players that would make their mark on the game though would be Ari Pullinen (from Finland, but living in Australia) and Steve ‘Babe’ Newbound, an Australian.  The 1980 NIHL crown went to the Sydney Allstars who won the best-of-3 final series over the Dandenong Blackhawks.

1980 Adelaide Flyers team photo (courtesy: Steve Newbound)


The 1980 NIHL competition was deemed a success, and 1981 saw the competition increase to a 9-team competition, with the additions of Warringah Bombers from Sydney, and I believe the Canterbury Eagles.  The Oakleigh Aces became the Oakleigh Golds.  The teams played in two divisions with the Sydney and Newcastle based teams playing in the Northern Division, and the Melbourne and Adelaide based teams playing in the Southern Division.

After finishing last in 1980, 1981 was a totally different affair for Adelaide with a name change to the ‘Payneham Flyers’.  The Australian Ice Hockey Federation had recruited Mickey Sutherland to fill a NHL goaltender void, and Jack Volkonnen of the Tigers brought over Finnish imports Arte Malste and Kari Pynnonen.  Notable players that year included Richard Kuryk, John Botterill and Orville Hildebrand from Canada, who happened to be picking grapes in the Barossa, heard about ice hockey at Payneham and signed up with the Falcons.  John Sutton came over from the Dandenong Blackhawks and joined the local Redwings club.  Larrikin Rick Adams managed to persuade John Thomas Brown from British Columbia into the local Tigers team.  All of these players joined the Flyers squad.  Adelaide came firing out of the blocks with this new lineup and a whole new professional attitude.  They scared the more highly fancied teams such as the Oakleigh Golds.  Their matchups were now referred to ‘barnburners’.  At the end of June 1981, Payneham Flyers were the only undefeated team in the NIHL.  (thanks to Mickey Sutherland for the updated information).

The Flyers got into the paper, amazing for such a little sport in Adelaide

The 1981 Payneham Flyers comprised:

Coach – Canadian Rick Adams, Kevin Brown; Team Manager – Kevin Brown

Goaltenders – Gary Sohkanen, Mickey Sutherland and Martin Francis

Defence – Arte Malste, Arki Valconan, Peter Couttes, Steve Newbound, Bill Vis and Richard Kuryk.

Forwards/Attackers – Kari Pynnonen, Ari Pullinen, John Sutton, Dave Lynch, John Brown, Art Lyon, Brian Reaney, John Botterill, Rusty Smith, Rudi Kinshopper and Orville Hildebrand.

1981 Payneham Flyers (blue) vs Footscray Pirates in yellow-orange (photo: Frank Kutsche)


A programme for the Payneham Flyers v Oakleigh Golds ‘Barnburner’ game at the start of June 1981.  By the end of July Warringah Bombers would be top of the ladder!


Camel Cup series

In 1981 and 1982 there were also a series of ‘best-of’ games between Adelaide (represented by the Payneham Flyers) and combined Melbourne teams called the Camel Cup.  The Payneham Ice Rink filled to capacity as Payneham Flyers, now with international imports such as Arte Malste, Kari Pynnonen and Orville Hildebrand clashed with the big strong Melbourne Chargers and Melbourne Jets teams.  The games were pretty rough and tumble (name a Adelaide vs Melbourne game anywhere, in any sport that isn’t!) and the results were often not pretty.  I remember a particular 15-5 loss inflicted upon Payneham.  Adelaide based fans would also love to hate Rod Danchuk of the Melbourne Chargers!

1981 (or 1982) Camel Cup at Payneham between Payneham Flyers and Melbourne Chargers (photo: Frank Kutsche)

In 1981, a second ice rink was built at Thebarton called ‘Mt Thebarton’ and it boasted an indoor snow skiing slope, the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.  The smaller NHL sized rink also meant the Thebarton Penguins were born!  However, the rink was a little substandard compared with Payneham, and the barriers or ‘boards’ looked suspiciously like the are the former boards from the old Hindley Street rink!  Sadly the Ice Arena is now the only ice rink in Thebarton, in Adelaide available for ice hockey as Payneham closed its doors sometime in the late 1980’s (NB. date not confirmed).  It is quite amusing when today’s current crop of players stare blankly at you when you mention the Payneham rink…only then you realise some of them weren’t even born back then and time has flown!   The indoor ski slope at ‘Mount Thebarton’ was decommissioned sometime in the 1990’s as it probably became unprofitable or the dreaded ‘L’ word Liability came into effect.  The Thebarton Penguins never played in the NIHL, but played games against cross town rivals from the NIHL, the Payneham Flyers.  I recall the ‘Thebby Penguins’ were quite dismal (in my humble opinion) and Payneham once beat them 15-5.   Since then the rink has also been known as the Snow Dome and Mount Thebarton, and is currently called the Ice Arena but could do with some injection of cash, and favourable lease terms.

1982  Thebarton Penguins team (courtesy: Steve Newbound)

Top Row:Tom McIntosh, John Mason, Steve Newbound, Kevin Brown, Ollie Tander, John Thomas Brown, Marty Howe, Mario Virant, John Troyer, Warren Johns, Tony Galvin.  Bottom Row: Rick Dent, Art Lyon, Mickey Sutherland, Micky Simmons, John Botterill, Rusty Smith, Denis Moylan, Paul Losia?


Mid 1980’s, Goodall Cup and the strong local comp

When the National Ice Hockey League (NIHL) dissolved after 1982 there was still a very strong local league in Adelaide comprising the Blackhawks (known as the ‘thugs’…..errr, my favourite team), Nordica Tigers (Finnish and Czechoslavakian imports), Falcons (the team or pretty boys everyone else seemed to hate) and Redwings (nice team, but often the easy beats).  During this time the Goodall Cup really gained a large interest as it provided South Australian players the only avenue to play at a National level.

The Goodall Cup was originally a State vs State series run as an annual carnival.  In the first decades Victoria and New South Wales slugged it out every final (yawn…for the other states!).  In more recent times in the 1990’s, South Australia (SA) had emerged as a very strong team and faced New South Wales (NSW) just about every year and won a fair few of these encounters.  One of the most memorable ice hockey games I ever witnessed was a grand final in Adelaide where the SA team found themselves down on the ropes at 1-3.  They gradually clawed their way back over the next two periods and held NSW scoreless for the remainder to win 4-3…..still one of the best games I’ve seen.  Another interesting encounter was a semi final between Victoria and the ACT captained by Chuck Naish which had only brought over a small number of players versus the large contingent from the Big V.  It was obvious the crowd got behind the ACT minnows who had somehow got into the finals.  The ACT with its guts and determination, and captain Naish being stitched up with a gash below the eye right below us withheld Victoria, for first regulation time, then overtime, then second overtime, but sadly lost in shootout.  The ACT team would have felt gutted and the very vocal crowd were very disappointed but the ACT could hold the heads up high that day almost beating the much more highly fancied opposition.  The Goodall Cup is now used as the trophy for the AIHL (men’s) championship.

South Australian captain Greg Oddy and IHA president Don Rurak with the Goodall Cup