Earlier this month, the power brokers of the AIHL including Club Presidents, stake holders and the members of the AIHL Commission met for the 2011 AIHL Annual General Meeting. After speaking with league Chairman Tyler Lovering, Andrew Hewitt is able to report on the outcomes.
Perth Thunder joins the AIHL
The biggest story to come out of the AGM was the acceptance of the Perth Thunder into the league for season 2012, but the decision for their inclusion into the AIHL as a member team was not as easy as some may think. Lovering said, “it was easy to focus on the road blocks, such as cost and distance”. However on the other side, the growth of the sport nationally allows the AIHL to boast a truly national League, something not many sports, professional or amateur, are able to do.
The opportunities it provides the youth of Perth too are substantial. Having a team in the West will allow for increased recognition and open the possibility to national team selection. This is one aspect of the proceedings that clearly excited Lovering upon reflection of his own playing career in the AIHL and National Team. “I was a ten-year international team player, and I think we only had one player from W.A. on the team in my whole ten years of playing” remarked Lovering.
Lovering praised the stable structure and financial preparation of the Thunder organisation; features paramount for success in the league.
AIHL Split into Southwest and Northeast conferences
Increasing the AIHL to nine teams has been a scheduling headache for the AIHL and its teams. Under the 2011 structure of two home and two away games versus each opponent, each team must play 32 games. Some will compare this to the 82 as seen in the NHL and question the commitment of the AHIL players and staff, however for an amateur league to even exist at all on a national scale in a country the size of Australia we should consider ourselves supremely lucky.
A few possibilities were explored, but the schedule for 2012 will be run under two conferences; known as Southwest (SW) and Northeast (NE).
The Northeast conference includes the Knights, Bears, Ice Dogs, North Stars, and Blue Tongues. The Southwest includes the Ice, Mustangs, Adrenaline and Thunder.
Teams will play 24 games each. For the Southwest teams to play 24, they will play a partial third round-robin on a three-year rotation.
The system for playoffs are yet to be determined, but a final four (first placed NE vs second placed SW and vice versa) will likely decide who plays for the Goodall Cup in 2012. Mr Lovering stated, “We need to find a balance between cost and effectiveness” and more comprehensive alternatives may have to wait for future seasons.
Another key talking point from the AGM was the lifting of certain conditions from the Mustangs IHC as they prepare to enter their sophomore year in the AIHL. When granted status as a member team, the Mustangs were prohibited from using the word ‘Melbourne’ in their team name.
The restriction related to protection of the branding of incumbent team the Melbourne Ice. Fans and media found the restriction confusing, and satisfied that the Melbourne Ice wouldn’t be damaged by its use, the Melbourne geographical tag restriction was lifted immediately.
Throughout the 2011 AIHL season there were complaints relating to rink standards across the league with Tyler Lovering admitting “We’ve had a few instances this year where rink standards just simply weren’t up to scratch”.
In an attempt to fix this and lift the standard, the AIHL has introduced and will enforce a Rink Standards By-Law, where the drive will be to implement minimum rink standards as a way of improving the health, safety for players and the overall enjoyment for the spectators.
Policy and Procedures to Support Players
Another announcement made by the Commission was the implementation of an Import Initiation Program. The AIHL has seen some great international talent grace the Australian ice and is extremely pleased that hockey in this part of the world is finally getting recognised.
Recognising that imports usually require coaching on expectations and rules of the Australian game, the AIHL Commission is developing the initiation program; a document that will form a part of each player’s playing contract.
The document will include the responsibilities of imports as well as guidelines for their accountability and participation in the local communities, with the hope of making an impact off as well as on the ice.
In another improvement for players, a players’ forum made up of senior players will begin in 2012. The teams will each nominate a representative for monthly meetings, where relevant players’ topics can be discussed. It will also give the league the chance further relay messages that may be important but not usually make it down to the locker room.
Officiating remains a high priority for the AIHL. A visible refereeing difference from city to city has the AIHL proposing an annual pre-season refereeing and officiating symposium.
This will be a workshop where referees, league officials, key stake holders and possibly members of the newly-formed players’ forum will attend and discuss relevant issues under the one roof. The symposium will take in case studies of certain incidents as well as video analysis in order to get everyone on the same page. The goal is for new standards in consistency for the 2012 AIHL season.
Changes to the AIHL Commission
AIHL Chairman Tyler Lovering was re-elected and will stand as leader yet again, with Ben Kiely replacing long-serving Commissioner Peter Lambert as Deputy. Kiely, who has been serving on the AIHL commission since 2009, has until now primarily focussed on the legal side of the league with by-laws and contracts – a service that he will without doubt continue to provide with excellence.
Opinion and Summary
With any forum that brings people together with varying agendas, there will always be some people, especially fans of the league that will be disappointed with the outcomes reached. Having said that, in the case of the 2011 AIHL AGM, the stakeholders, commission, and everyone else involved should be commended for their efforts in producing the results it has.
With the introduction of a new team, the re-organisation of a young one, the induction of new by-laws, initiation programs, refereeing symposiums and player forums, there certainly has been a lot more to come out of it than the Thunder and we can safely say that the league and game is headed in the right direction.
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