The summer is rough on hardcore hockey fans, particularly once August comes around. Sure, sports fans have the Olympics to distract them from the summer doldrums and, technically, there is hockey in London, but it’s just field hockey and it’s really not the same. You could turn on the water polo and listen to the hockey commentators try to make sense of the game, but it’s just not a very visually stimulating sport to watch on TV, particularly since the bulk of the physical play takes place below the surface.
It’s only summer, however, in the Northern Hemisphere. Right now, it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere and Australia’s top hockey league is ramping up to a climax, with just a few weeks left in the regular season and the playoffs following shortly after. This weekend, you can get your fix of hockey to tide you over until NHL training camps start.
The Australian Ice Hockey League is in its 12th season of existence and currently consists of 9 teams, with names like the Newcastle North Stars and the Gold Coast Blue Tongues. The AIHL is a semi-professional league, meaning the players aren’t paid but receive some form of compensation or assistance from their teams, like covering meals, accommodation, and travel. Teams are allowed six import players, with only four allowed in any one game.
The AIHL playoffs, which will take place on September 1st and 2nd, are a single-elimination format, with the top team from each conference facing the second-place team in the opposite conference in semi-finals on the 1st, with the winners playing for the Goodall Cup on the 2nd. The Goodall Cup is actually almost as old as the Stanley Cup and has a long history with Australian ice hockey, first being awarded in 1909. The Melbourne Ice are gunning for their third-straight championship, a quest which has been chronicled all season by a documentary film team, 24/7-style.
So why does this matter to you, the North American hockey fan? Simple: the Melbourne Ice stream their home games online and they have two home games coming up this weekend. This means you have a chance to watch live, meaningful hockey in the middle of August.
The only question is how desperate are you for hockey? With the time difference, the two games will be very late on Friday and Saturday night (aka. very early Saturday and Sunday morning).
At 3:00 AM EST and 12:00 AM PST on Saturday morning, you can catch the Melbourne Ice versus the Newcastle North Stars. It should be a good game featuring the top two teams in the league, but the start time may test exactly how hardcore you are about hockey. On the plus side, periods in the AIHL only last 15 minutes, so the games won’t last quite as long.
The Sunday game starts a little bit earlier: 1:30 AM EST and 10:30 PM PST on Saturday for those on the west coast. The Ice will be facing the Sydney Bears in that game, a team below .500 that the Ice crushed 6-2 in their last meeting. But for those out west, that start time is almost reasonable.
The online stream is available at livestream.com/melbourneice.
For those not willing to endanger their sleep schedule, they also have full video of their previous games available. The quality isn’t HD, by any means, but it’s watchable. Keep an eye on the crowd for NHL jerseys: I spotted Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks jerseys in the crowd during one game. Even better, there’s a fan in a Chiefs jersey in the highlights video at the top of this post.
There’s even an NHL connection with the Melbourne Ice this year. Defenceman Doug Wilson, the son of Sharks GM Doug Wilson, is one of the Ice’s import players and has scored 16 points in 17 games to lead all Ice defencemen in scoring.
From watching the highlights available on the AIHL website and the Melbourne Ice games, the league is fast-paced, hard-hitting, and pretty fun to watch. The Melbourne Ice games also feature play-by-play and colour commentary in an Australian accent, which is not something I knew I needed in my life until I heard it. I’m definitely adding it to my alternate commentary wish list.
So what do you say? Anyone up for watching some semi-professional Australian ice hockey this weekend?