Reality Check Excerpt: A team lasts only for a season
Monday, March 2, 2015 - Submitted by Will Brodie
Will Brodie, former hockey correspondent for Fairfax Media, is completing a book about the 2014 AIHL season, titled REALITY CHECK: Travels in the Australian Ice Hockey League, due for release online on Saturday March 21, 2015. Here is an excerpt from September: "A team lasts only for a season".
In the coming weeks, more excerpts and off-cuts from the book will be featured here at theaihl.com. For more words and pictures from the project, go to facebook.com/realitycheckbook and visit his website, willbrodie.com.
Tuesday 2 September 2014
“It could be worse You could be scouse Eating rats In a council house.”
These are the first words I hear upon entering Melbourne Ice’s Presentation Night, two days after their grand final demise. They are uttered by Johan, quoting his beloved Chelsea fans, who is firmly of the opinion that you have to laugh in the face of disappointment. He says he told his goalie Jaden that the loss is a positive, as he has now experienced the worst. The best is yet to come.
“The horses were too good, congratulations to them, they’ve done well”, says Ian Webster, summing up the opinions of most gathered. Others say that Ice played its grand final on Saturday, but the lacklustre Sunday performance remains a mystery.
Ice walks the walk when it comes to its awards. The brief event consists of the players being introduced and the announcement of just two awards. One, named after threepeat goalie and now vice-president Stu Denman, goes to a youngster from the club’s academy (Niko French this year) who has impressed on and off the ice. The other is the Patron’s Medal, which goes to the person who Josh believes has most embodied the values of the Melbourne Ice family during the year. This year Josh Puls chooses to honour long-time volunteer and committee treasurer Joanne Luciani, who is always amiably visible on gamedays at the Ice merchandise/raffle ticket table. A supporter of Melbourne Ice since the early days at Oakleigh, Jo has been a volunteer since 2008, and a member of the committee since 2009.
This final official act of the club season aims to ground the club, whether its team won a championship or not. Josh is one smart cookie. The other use of the event is as a goodbye. All around the room, people who saw each other at least four times a week, are now arranging lunches, dinners and golf rounds, suddenly lacking the framework of practices and games and road trips. Then there are those who may not be seen again for years, or at all.
In a message, I had already congratulated Emma on her club’s season. “Tough gig. Tough weekend” was her response. She has lost her voice, and not regained her usually cheery manner.
The team disperses, after many months spent in each other’s company. It will never reconvene - next year will have feature at least two new imports, perhaps four if Matt and Jason’s permanent residency comes through, depending on what the club decides. There will be retirements, axings, and players who cannot play because of work or study responsibilities.
As Mick told the Mustangs months ago, a team lasts only for a season. It is a unique arrangement: a group bonds; put their bodies on the line for each other; shares triumphs and disappointments; gets to know much of the dimensions of each other’s character... then parts.
Andy Lamrock says that there has been “big movement” on a possible rink in the past two weeks. As always the prospect of new facilities is teasing.
Gustaf writes a farewell notice to the “Melbourne Ice family” saying he will miss them all and hopes to return for a visit. “In the meantime, friends are like stars - you can’t always see them but you know where they are.”
Tim Johansson, who had stopped playing hockey before coming across the Icehouse, now wants to come back and play again. “It would have been so much fun to win it, because we have had so much fun as a team this year,” he tells me.
The word ‘fun’ defined Ice this year. Matt used it to determine if it was worth playing; the group assiduously pursued it and kept it in play, like the team practice ball before games. In a more formal way, it was what Brent and James and the off-ice team sought to preserve for the players. Brent called it making the players feel “safe”. He aimed to cocoon players from external pressures and club politics.
What does success look like? Brent had asked the club to ask him. He wanted priorities clear.
I had asked him at the final training run.
He said he had aimed to re-set the culture and make the playoffs.
Mission accomplished then, though he emphasised the cultural change is an ongoing, three-year process.
For the players, it had been to make it fun to play for Melbourne Ice again.
They had succeeded.
The Mustangs are celebrating with gusto. I left their gathering before midnight, when it became time for the young and the insiders to share the misdemeanours of future legends. After a particularly incoherent series of Facebook posts featuring several players discussing sleeping arrangements, over-stayers and personal hygiene, Brad sums up what is occurring with “You are bad, bad men.”
Andy McDowell tellingly tells me that the pioneers at the Mustangs now can forget the anger of the past. “It’s a new era, and for us its officially just down to business...”
He also informs me that during the grand final Joey Hughes suffered a cracked fibula, with 80% of muscle torn from the bone. How did he play on? That injury was sustained in the second period.
He won’t be able to take too many Next Level classes on ice for the next few months...
Though it’s not quite at the level of Rick Del Basso or Nathan Waker, Pat has done something during the decider which has caught the attention of hockey nuts in Canada. TSN has featured ATC footage of Pat saying “Hi Mom” from the penalty box early in the second period, with the score 1-0.
Jeff Smith is already on a plane. His original schedule had him leaving hours after the grand final, time being short for imports in demand on the other side of the earth. Jeremy Brown was gone within a day, and faced a training run with hours of arriving in Montreal. Another couple of days later he was named captain of his Canadian Junior Hockey League team the Sherbrooke Cougars. Five days after being Ice’s best player in its grand final demise, he records his first points and penalty minutes of his next season in a 3-2 win over Granby. He may not be able to return to the AIHL next season.
James Morgan isn’t drinking, because he has to drive from one end of Melbourne to the other dropping off gear. ATC Productions will be doing the Australian Baseball League over summer. He doesn’t have the same passion for it as hockey, but it’s close to home. As for hockey? “I’ll be involved with hockey for as long as it will have me.” Those words are worth a lot of money to the league, entirely dependent on James’ company for the Pay TV deal it can use to leverage bigger sponsorships.
After the praise for the winner, Ian wants it known that Ice played twice as many youngsters in more than twice as many games as any other team, the Mustangs included. He has analysed the number of AIHL games played for each club players aged 21 and under. Ian is annoyed by the perception that Ice isn’t developing young players.
Clubs with access to a young talent base would be crazy not to nurture them - a core of 13 Mustangs players played together for years and are the backbone of their club, most aged under 25.
Quoting a football coach friend, Colin Kinnear, Ian also provides the pithiest distillation of the dilemma of coaches in amateur sport: “It’s all carrot and no stick.”
Josh speaks softly, and seems almost vulnerable as he reads his speech. The sharp wit is put aside. This is the spiritual basis of the club being reiterated.
“Jo is a good example, I think, of what it really means for the club to have a family spirit. A family spirit does not mean we all have to agree all the time. It does not mean things always have to be easy – what family is like that? It does not mean that we do not have to make hard decisions sometimes.
“What a family spirit does mean though is that we treat each other with hospitality, honesty and integrity, just as our Mission Statement says.
“Jo is a person of the utmost integrity. She is scrupulously fair. She speaks the truth with kindness. She looks for the best in everyone, and hangs in there when others would not.”
Reality Check: Travels in the Australian Ice Hockey League will be officially launched at a party on Saturday March 21 at 7pm at the St Moritz bar upstairs at the Medibank Ice House.
There will be no readings or boring speeches. There will be prizes and interviews and discounted copies of Reality Check on sale. For those who can't attend, Reality Check will go on sale online on this date.
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