Thursday, January 15, 2015 - Submitted by Andrew McMurtry
After 21 years since arriving in Australia, Adelaide Adrenaline manager Ross Noga has decided to resign from his role, saying “it was just time”.
A part of the Australian ice hockey community since 1993, Noga has participated as a player, coach, manager, chef de mission, and referee and linesman over the past 21 years and has his name on the Goodall Cup as an official three times (in 1997 with the South Australian team, 2000 and 2001 with the Adelaide Avalanche) as well as being the manager of the Australian national squads for 10 years (under 20’s between 2002-2007, senior men's team 2008-2013).
However, after entering a new career in 2014 in the gas fields of Moomba in north-east South Australia, Noga realised he couldn’t devote the same time and energy as he had in the past.
“Last year was tough missing the playoffs and after getting this job, I haven’t been around much so I’ve missed a majority of the year as it was,” Noga said. “Then my second road trip we go to Canberra and I was there to witness the big bus crash. That hit home pretty hard. All those things come into play when you’re considering if you want to continue or step away but it’s not a snap decision, it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while.”
“When old guys retire, people always say ‘you’ll be back’ but I don’t think I will be. I’m at the point where I turned 50 last year and it’s a new stage of my life with new challenges. But I’ve got no regrets whatsoever. I’ve had a pretty good run being involved for 10 years with the national teams and 21 years of ice hockey in Adelaide. I got to coach a lot of these kids and see them develop, playing the best sport in the world without a doubt,” Noga said, letting his Canadian roots shine through.
Born in 1964 in North Vancouver and growing up as a Vancouver Canucks fan, Noga refined his love of hockey right at the source. When he came to Australia in 1993 after marrying an Australian woman, Noga considers himself lucky that he was able to continue to contribute to the sport he loved, being involved as a player, coach and manager, chef de mission, referee and linesman. Included in that legacy is having a role to play when concept of the current AIHL was dreamed up.
Noga said the growth and development of the AIHL has been impressive from the early days.
“To go from three teams to now eight teams that was nine with the Gold Coast, I know a majority of the players because they’ve come through the ranks of the Australian teams and I’ve seen a lot of these players develop and go right up,” Noga said. “I mean, Nathan Walker, I didn’t get to see much of him except when he played for the National team. But all the other players like Lliam Webster, Greg Oddy, Josh Harding and Mark Rummukainen, I’ve known them for pretty much my whole time here. To see the league develop, and it’s in a pretty good place right now, it’s not an easy decision to walk out on either.”
Despite this growth, especially in the past few years, Noga is unsure about what’s next for the AIHL as he said it’s a hard ask for a minority sport in this country to reach mainstream recognition.
“I know we’ve been on Foxtel and from what I’ve heard the ratings have been pretty good and I know sold out Rod Laver Arena with the America-Canada games that came over but it’s tough with the sport being a minority sport,” Noga said. “The way things are changing, just look at the economy, I mean here in Adelaide there are a lot of companies going under, sponsorship dollars are hard to come by now. I’d love to see the league take off. I don’t know personally whether it’s going to get hugely bigger than it is now. Look at the Icehouse, they’re selling out games, especially the derbies, so they won’t get too much bigger. Adelaide need a new rink; Canberra’s in the same boat because the clubs have to work under rink owners because they don’t own the rinks themselves. I think it’s in a pretty good position now but where it will be in a few years, it’s really hard for me to say.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t had a lot of great times in the years that he’s been involved, citing some of his biggest highlights as the three Championships he was a part of.
“The first one, beating NSW [with South Australia in the interstate Championship in 1997] was pretty special because we didn’t deserve to win it,” Noga said. “In 2000, it was great beating the Sydney Bears in Sydney at the Macquarie Ice Rink with CBC Canada there because the Olympic Games were in Sydney so they came to the game and were filming it. We came back from down 4-2 with two goals in the last minute-and-a-half to tie it and then won it in a shootout, which was pretty special. The year after we went back-to-back and undefeated.”
“I also received three gold medals in World Championships. I won my first one in Bulgaria in 2004 (as manager of the U20’s Division 3 team) and the win in Newcastle in 2008 and Melbourne in 2011 (as manager of the National Senior Men’s team).”
As part of the team of officials to travel with the national team, Noga had a great insight into the two times Australia has made it to the Division 1 World Championships. One highlight of those Championships, despite not having witnessed a win at that level, was the game against perennial Division 1 heavyweights, Poland.
With Poland at home and citing a proud history of achievement at World Championship level, the Australian’s pushed the Polish team all the way in a 5-3 loss that had the packed home crowd cheering for the Australians, such was the performance they put on. Noga said it was one of those experiences that you will never forget.
“We had a couple of big injuries there as well; we lost Tommy Powell and Nathan Walker with both guys injured and that really hurt us,” Noga said. “But the guys we did have really turned it on for us. That game was probably the best game I’ve seen us play in Division 1. It’s a tough ask for us to get up against those teams that have professional players but in front of that raucous crowd in Poland, it was a pretty amazing experience.”
Despite the benefits of being a manager including travelling with various teams and witnessing World Championships and Australian Championships, managing also has a challenging side that many people don’t get to see.
"Some people say ‘you get free trips and this and that’, especially with the national team, but they don’t realise how much work goes into it,” Noga said. “Even when you’re overseas, they think you’re only there because you get a free trip but when the guys are in bed and it’s two in the morning and you’re still up on your computer dealing with paperwork and getting it ready for whichever country you’re about to go to, they would realise it’s not extravagant. When you set an alarm to get three hours sleep and then you’re back up organising practices and buses to take teams somewhere, there is always something going on and something to work out. It’s not as extravagant a job as people seem to think.”
“But I enjoy it, if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t have done it. There is a plus side as well - getting to see the games and watch the players develop. There is definitely some satisfaction that you’re part of it. I mean, every time I see the Goodall Cup, it’s nice to be able to see my name up there. I’ve got the gold medal jerseys hanging up in my living room. I had some Avalanche ones as well but they’re hanging at the rink.”
Although he’s a Canadian and a hockey fan, Noga is at peace with his decision to move on from the Adrenaline. He’ll still probably attend games as a spectator, but will have more time to pursue his other interests, including AFL football with Port Power, golf, fishing and time with his kids.
Finally, after 21 years in the Australia ice hockey, Noga has plenty of people to thank.
“I would like to thank everybody involved with the sport and wish the AIHL and the teams all the best for the future,” he started. “It is hard to thank everybody but I will name a few who were a big part of my involvement with the sport. Firstly Steve Oddy and Jim Thilthorpe for believing in me and allowing me to be part of the vision for the start of the Adelaide Avalanche. Also, Don and Shirley Rurak and Kevin Brown for all their support with the national teams.”
“I’d also like to thank John Botterill for making the Ice Arena a fun place to come for all those years and all the other volunteers including Nicky Reese and all the other scorekeepers for all their time they’ve given to the sport. I also want to make mention of Frank Kutsche and Emmy Whitelaw for all the fantastic photography over the years in Adelaide and Mark Bradford, William Stewart and all the other photographers around the league as well as ATC Productions for their video streaming. Ken Lambert also needs to be mentioned as the key supplier of Apparel for most of the teams that I was involved with and he always went the extra mile to get things ready which made his job easier. Finally, I’d like to wish Clive Connolly and the rest of the IHA as well as Robert Bannerman, Alex Hamilton and the rest of the AIHL board all the best for the future.”
“As the late Bob (Badger) Johnson used to say, ‘It's a great day for hockey.’”