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The best kept sporting secret in Melbourne

Melbourne Ice, the best kept secret... Credit: Melbourne ICE

It’s a freezing, wet  and windy Melbourne evening in late May and I’m wearing my ski jacket with my hood up. Blue has been absent from the sky since mid-morning, adding up to conditions that make the sporting capital of the world feel more like Canada than Australia.

But, despite my complaints about the state the rain has worked my hair into, it’s probably fitting weather for my first ever Australian Ice Hockey League game – the Melbourne Ice versus the Adelaide Adrenaline.

I’d been to a few games in the States and I watch the NHL on TV when I can, so heading in I had an idea of what to expect, but the smaller crowd somehow made for a bigger atmosphere.

The only thing you really need to know about going to a Melbourne Ice game is that it’s not a gimmick. Sure, there are the tourists (like myself) there for a look, but the crowd is full fans that are noisy, passionate, knowledgeable and clad in navy blue team jerseys.

We’re five minutes late, and it’s standing room only. There are 1000 seats in the MediBank Ice House, and with not a single one vacant, there are probably 1000 more spectators littered through the arena.

Standing suits me just fine, as we grab a spot up against the glass within inches of the players as they get battered into the boards. I quickly pick up on what’s expected of you in that position – basically, whenever anything happens, (a goal, a penalty, or even the puck entering your area), it’s your job to bang the glass as hard as you can. My hands are sore are a few minutes, but I’m having the time of my life.

We decide to head up into the stands to get a view of the game from above. My mate Leigh tells us we missed a cracker of a fight, and I spend the rest of the game hoping someone will drop gloves again, but alas, it’s not my night.

While it’s not a night for fights, it’s definitely a night for goals. Melbourne wins 7-4 – not your typical hockey scoreline.

During a memorable post match address in Mighty Ducks 3, Coach Orion tells the Ducks it takes “less than a second” to score a goal, and he’s spot on. A poorly timed bathroom break sees me miss two.

The Mighty Ducks quips don’t end there.

“Good save, Goldberg,” my friend Brad, also a first timer, says.

“Where’s the flying V?” he comments a moment later.

Hockey is definitely a game that is best seen in person – television doesn’t do it justice.

So much of live sport is the sound. And hockey sounds fantastic; the cut and scrape of skates on the ice, the bang of bodies on the boards, and the smack of the puck against the stick. These boys hit the puck hard. Like, Adam Gilchrist pull shot hard.

We couldn’t have picked a better night for our hockey debut. The Ice is in complete control of the game from the outset, dominating the play. A fierce and fast first term sees the score at 4-1 after the first period.

When the home team hits the back of the net after a fast break at the start of the third, the crowd goes ballistic and at 6-3, the result is pretty much beyond doubt.

Those in the know could have told you this years ago, but the AIHL is the best kept secret in sport. I wish I had an extra set of hands so I could give it four thumbs up, because two just doesn’t seem enough. One game in and I’m already looking forward to adding an Ice jersey to my collection.

As far as sporting experiences go, it’s a must for any sports fan, whether you know hockey or not.

Erin Byrnes

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