It's the true test of Melbourne's devotion to sport: how much can we love something we know nothing about? The answer is “ice hockey”. Mary Bolling investigates...
Meet Melbourne Ice: 25 of the fiercest blokes to take to the cold stuff in this winter-hating city. The fearsome squad – a blue and white mish-mash of Aussie Canada-philes and North American imports – started out on a rare city ice rink in Oakleigh. A decade on, they pack out their shiny new home at Ice House stadium at Docklands. The rink is cold, the pace is fast, and screaming is mandatory.
First, a confession: my knowledge of ice hockey is based entirely on Mighty Ducks 1-through-3 (key facts – good guys always win by a goal in final minute, Flying V). Fair to say though, plenty of Ice fans are yet to avail themselves of that informative documentary series. There’s a constant stream of crowd commentary – ref abuse, opposition abuse, and questions about the rules. “Why did that happen?” is the most common line of inquiry. Hilariously, “You skate like you’ve got a parrot up your arse!” is also a featured heckle.
Insults aside, it’s standing room only as Melbourne Ice welcomes Perth Thunder to their home rink. The night before, the visitors had defeated Melbourne’s newer, underdog team, the Mustangs. One middle-aged lady fan confides: “This is pretty tame, last night there was blood on the ice!” The statement does not seem metaphoric. (Also explained: when players take their gloves off, it’s a sign that fisticuffs are imminent – Ice players de-glove several times, but the tiny refs manage to hustle players apart before any blood spillage.)
With gloves on though, the sport still offers satisfying amounts of smashing into the barriers – the furious pace of skating means any collision delivers a crunch. Padded up to resemble fast-moving, broad-shouldered Michelin Men, the players always seem to get up again.
The Ice went down 3-6 in the battle against Perth, but retained the top spot on the Australian Ice Hockey League ladder going into next month’s finals. Melbourne Mustangs (pictured) have managed only a handful of wins – the last chance to back them this season is August 18 and 19 against Adelaide Adrenalin.
Also in September, the women’s league starts tryouts for their 2012/13 season – for the sake of the fans, be sure to remove any parrots before strapping on the skates. The men’s 2013 season gets back underway in March next year.