In an epic weekend on and off the ice, the Australian Ice Hockey League has a new champion at the end of a season with many highs and few lows. From someone who has moved from being hockey novice at best to writer and social media guy, how did the weekend pan out?
History will show that 2014 was my first hockey season. More importantly for half of the Melbourne hockey community, a new champion was crowned after 3 high scoring games of hockey at the Icehouse on August 30/31. History will also show that in Semi Final 1, the MOAT: Melbourne Mustangs defeated the defending champions, the Sydney Ice Dogs, 6-4. This set up the first half of the Grand Final – the Stangs’ first appearance in a finals series and now a Grand Final. After this game, Semi Final 2 saw former champions Melbourne Ice defeat CBR Brave 6-1 to end the Brave fairytale one chapter early. On Sunday, the stage was set. What people from both clubs were regarding as another Melbourne Derby, the Mustangs were too good for the Ice and were deserving winners 6-1.
How that all happened is for another time, however. Time for some fun on and off the ice over the weekend!
Friday August 29
With the Ice Dogs and Brave needing to fly into Melbourne, the Brave organisation were very keen to get to Melbourne early to allow for any travel related issue. While many people flew down on Saturday, many also flew on Friday. Despite the early flights, the Brave and others were delayed due to fog in Melbourne. In addition to those on early morning flights, my flight was not overly delayed departing Sydney but had to spend some time in a holding pattern due to congestion in Melbourne. As a result, I got to see the Snowy Mountains at least twice. Before leaving Sydney, I could see the baggage getting loaded onto the plane. I was wondering how the Goodall Cup was being transported from the Liverpool Catholic Club to Melbourne.
During my previous road trip in June (Ice & Mustangs v Bears), I found my accommodation in the Melbourne CBD. While others preferred to stay near Docklands closer to the Icehouse, I was quite happy with my location, on a tram route with free and direct trams to the Icehouse. Prior to the game, Hockeywise presented an excellent guide to the weekend including detailed instructions on what to do and how to get to the Icehouse. Related: How To Get To The Icehouse 101.
Knowing the area and being comfortable in how to get to and from the Icehouse meant that I did not have to waste time in figuring out on the fly how to get around. Friday afternoon was very un-Melbourne weatherwise and I enjoyed it, knowing I would not see much of the outside world on Saturday and Sunday apart from the inside of the Icehouse, Harbour Town Hotel and Groove Train. At the hotel, I was called Canadian because I was wearing a Sydney Bears jersey and accompanied by a lady with an accent. I spent a nice couple of hours chatting. Many locals were still at their day jobs on Friday afternoon when I arrived. Dedicated volunteers would spend many hours before, during and after the event to help it run smoothly. Related: Telling The Difference Between American & Canadian Accents 101.
Heading to the Icehouse on Friday night, I had a jersey delivery to make (older Bears & Newcastle North Stars). It would also give me a chance to see some local hockey at the Icehouse. Being from Sydney, I have to drive to Newcastle or fly to Melbourne or Perth to see top level hockey played at a venue with glass. If you have ever been to a venue with nets, you would know how I feel about being at the Icehouse, even if I was watching C or D grade hockey. I was also spotted by one of the resident Melbourne AIHL photographers, Andrew of Mosquito Byte. We were able to have a chat without the pressure of AIHL Finals weekend and compare notes. I was also free to roam around the arena so I was able to take advantage of several different points of view, always near the glass. Before leaving, I was able to see one of the local players take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge after being given some ice from the Zamboni. Looks like I wasn’t the only one to think of that! Across the local hockey community, others were preparing for the weekend. Related: Ensuring You Can Get A Leave Pass 101.
With a relatively early night after 2 games and what would be a sleep in for most people the next day, I made my way to the hotel ready for the weekend.
Saturday August 30
I love trams. My hotel is 1 block away from the free City Circle tram route and directly services the Icehouse from the CBD. Indeed it was my last trip to Melbourne and a tweet from a tram that indirectly introduced me to Mustangs assistant coach Chuck Connolly. He had seen me at the Groove Train celebrating a rare Bears win earlier that day and introduced himself to me. He knew I was in town because I had taken a photo of myself on a tram while I was on my way to the Icehouse and posted it on Twitter. That started a very interesting night of conversation in Chuck’s unique style. So I decided to take the tram again but also use it as a part of a social media experiment. Related: Hashtags & Social Media 101.
More people were arriving in Melbourne from interstate with more delays across the country. I had decided early that I was going to go to the Finals and that I was going to leave Sydney on Friday and return home on Monday. It would allow more time in Melbourne and more time to potentially hang out with friends, old and new. I was able to follow people’s progress on social media as they happily shared statuses and photographs about where they were. For some people, it was their first time to the Icehouse.
Recently allowed access to update the Bears Twitter & Facebook pages, I have been trying to build engagement and create content for Bears fans and the wider community. After remembering a Simpsons reference from the Bears previous clean sweep of Melbourne, I decided to use on Facebook and Twitter the hashtag #bearpatrol. The idea of #bearpatrol is that if you are in Bears gear yourself or see someone who is, say hi and get a photo. Upload the photos to Twitter or Facebook using #bearpatrol and see where else we can see the Bears gear on display. Knowing that the Bears were not in the finals and that I may indeed be the only person in a Bears jersey in Melbourne, I was encouraging people to spot me and have their photo with me. In addition, I had a cardboard goalie mask from the previous week’s games that I could also wear in these photos. Later, the AIHL social media accounts were also encouraging people to take selfies with visiting fans. There was an interesting array of AIHL & NHL jerseys on display in the crowd. With the recent signing of Nathan Walker to the Washington Capitals, it will be interesting to see how many Walker jerseys will be sent to Australia in the next year or so. Related: Creative Photography 101.
So I got creative, partly hoping that people outside the local hockey community would at least see something different. Wearing the mask, I took my photo in front of a City Circle tram, on the tram, in front of a shop window or two, in front of Groove Train and the Harbour Town Hotel, the Melbourne Star and finally, the Icehouse. A staff member of the Melbourne Star even came over to me and suggested a better angle for my photo outside the wheel. The balcony outside the Aboriginal art shop gives a good chance to get a good angle of the wheel – which is actually in operation after years of failure. The wheel is a good reference point for getting to the Icehouse, as is Groove Train, the Harbour Town Hotel and that rather pointless dinosaur that sits across the road. Related: Taking Selfies 101.
At the Icehouse, it was just before noon. With a skate session for AIHL ticket holders starting at 12.30pm, I got in the door easily with my pre-purchased tickets. If you don’t have a printer at home like me, an airline lounge is a great place to print out a game ticket. It’s also a good place to relax before a flight and to tweet the airline. I asked the airline where the hotdogs were in the lounge. They replied and also wished my team luck. I told them that my team was not in the finals but I would have a good weekend anyway. It was rather surprising that a lot of people were not waiting when the doors to the rink opened. However, pre-sold allocated seating helped that situation a great deal. Despite the allocation of seating, there was little checking that someone was sitting in the right seat. Related: Shameless Promotion 101.
I had noticed that the arena was looking empty but also looking different. The previous night, I had noted many of the same boards advertising that had been at the Icehouse all season. During the week prior to the game, I had been looking at highlights from the previous year and there were stickers everywhere. The boards were covered in many new stickers including some for Brave related sponsors. As I found out later, there was a lot of hard work done after I had left the Icehouse the previous night to get the boards stickered. One of the people applying stickers until Stupid o’clock in the morning was AIHL Commissioner Robert Bannerman. Bannerman by name, Banner Man by nature, perhaps? Having advertising on the boards is a great way to expose your sponsors, attract more sponsors and obtain more backing for the league. It also looks impressive for the fans at the arena and watching live. Related: Arena Advertising 101.
AIHL players are amazing athletes and skaters. I am not. Prior to the finals weekend, I had skated once as an adult. That occasion was at Sydney Ice Arena the previous week after the Bears/Brave game where I scored the slowest imaginary goal in AIHL history. Seeing as though the session was effectively free, I tried to skate. I started from the Ice bench and somehow got to the Ice penalty box while having a chat with one of the Mustangs’ Colts. Spending some quality time in the penalty box, I shuffled around the ice towards the Mustangs’ bench.
As a new skater and not having a Swedish Viking to take me around the ice by dragging me around on a seal, progress was slow. Having glass does have a disadvantage for new skaters – it is harder to hold onto the wall. Going slowly around the rink, I was meeting new fans from across the league. I even hugged a fan through the glass which was an interesting experience. After the slowest lap of the rink in AIHL history (probably), I was skating a little better. I completed another lap, mostly not holding onto the boards. While I was there, I was getting #bearpatrol photos, including with Sam who was wearing an English club jersey. I did not skate as much as the previous week but I was also not always under direct adult supervision which was a little scary for me. Related: Ice Skating for Dummies 101
Sore after the session, I was keen to sit down. During this time, I was approached by ATC Productions commentator Stephen White. Last week after the Del Basso celebration, I encouraged CBR Brave resident commentator Geoff Koop to see how he would go calling that moment. ATC went one better and were asking people at the game to commentate on that moment. Armed with a tablet, Stephen would play the footage that half the international hockey world has seen. In front of the camera, it was now my turn to turn commentator and try my hand at commentating on that moment. Later during an intermission, my attempt plus many others were shown on the scoreboard and on the live stream to people watching around the world. A fan also took my picture of me on the big screen and added it to #bearpatrol. Don’t worry, Stephen, your job is safe! Related: Hockey Commentary 101.
As the first game approached, I was seeing faces that I had seen on my last visit plus people that I had chatted to online but had not met in person. As would happen several times over the weekend, I was getting approached by people who knew me from the internet but I had no idea who they were. One of the many people to approach me was Fairfax writer Will Brodie. As it turned out, Will and I were sitting a few seats apart in a prime position at centre ice. If you have seen any AIHL articles online or published in newspapers such as The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald, most likely the article was written by Will. He travels around the country and has a great style of writing which captures the game and what he sees perfectly without the reader needing to be a hockey genius. Apart from Will, I was also able to meet several other people from the AIHL social media world over the weekend. Now not being new to social media but being (mostly) new about how the other teams are structured in terms of social media, it was nice to be able to put a face to the people behind the tweets and Facebook posts. It is a great starting point for me, especially as the newest addition to people tweeting on behalf of a team. I hope to build on those relationships. Related: Building Relationships 101.
The first game of the afternoon was the first semi final between the Mustangs and the Ice Dogs. From the South Pole end of the Icehouse, many Brave fans were the first large fan group you would encounter. Then were a mixture of Ice and Mustangs fans in the middle sections followed by Mustangs fans and Ice Dogs fans. Because it was a Finals series and an AIHL event rather than an Ice event or a Mustangs event, the usual regular season seating arrangements did not apply. There were lots of people standing at the glass at either end with the side near the penalty boxes mainly for corporates. I had only been to an Ice Dogs game in Sydney so it would be interesting to see who would make the trip down and how loud they would be. While they may have appeared to have been outnumbered by local fans, I could hear the familiar voices and the familiar chants of Ice Dogs fans. Most of the cheering for the first game seemed to be coming from my left. As the game approached, I thought that there were a lot of empty seats – maybe the Ice fans were only going to come to their game? Related: Seating Arrangements 101
One thing that I did notice during the entire weekend was that the intermissions were mostly quiet. Not wanting to miss a moment of action, people naturally were taking the chance to go to the bar and cafe. Apart from a couple of breaks with pre-recorded vision (Del Basso commentary and Grand Final Predictions), the Zamboni going around and around was the sole form of entertainment. This was a little surprising. Mind you, I was also talking to people around me either verbally, via social media and also by use of hand signals and charades. I was also taking advantage of reading people’s opinions of the game via social media. I was not tweeting as much as I normally do, choosing highlights only. Like others, sometimes I am just happy to catch up with what I have missed in between periods. With the Bears not involved, there was no need to live tweet everything. Related: Tweeting Hockey Games 101.
One such highlight that I did tweet was about the first goal that Mustangs forward Viktor Gibbs Sjodin scored in the third period. He hit the puck with such force that I thought that the puck would have ended up inside Groove Train so in my tweet, I suggested that someone search there later. I would love to see footage of that goal again – one of the shots from long distance that I have seen all season. After returning home on Monday, I found that Viktor favourited my tweet. With a short preparation between the Semi Final and the Grand Final and also the post-game celebrations, he still found some time to favourite that tweet. I now know how hard it is to decide on what tweets need to be actioned and what tweets are merely referencing the team or player. As a popular player and a keen user of social media himself, Viktor’s phone must be in meltdown. Related: Use of Social Media By Players 101.
It was also interesting to hear the chanting. If there was a bad refereeing decision against the Mustangs, a chant of “DDDAAAARRRYYYYLLLL” would erupt. When Melbourne Ice defenceman Jeff Smith was sent to the penalty box against the Brave, a chant of “FREE JEFF SMITH!” would erupt from the Ice fans around me. The Ice fans love to chant and they will even chant “GO MELBOURNE GO” even when playing the Mustangs – both Melbourne teams. Many chants of “GO ICE GO” or “LET’S GO ICE” were common. Another chant that was often heard on Saturday but barely on Sunday was “J-P-M”, dedicated to Ice goaltender Jaden Pine-Murphy. Most Ice players have some sort of chant and/or nickname. All weekend, the atmosphere was amazing. Related: Active Support 101.
In between periods, I was recording short video pieces about the games I was watching. It was a way to give people playing along at home an idea of the atmosphere and also gave me experience at shooting video. Using my iPhone or iPad and a gifted microphone, it was good experience for what might be seen next year. During the weekend, it was interesting to see the reactions of people around me. Some people were trying to distract me, others were trying to get into the shot. Others simply have no concept that a guy talking into a microphone while looking at the phone (camera) is not interested or is not affected if you walk in between the back of the phone and the wall. In some situations, it might be important to film a piece and release it right away. For others, there can be post-production and a little bit more polish in the production. Either way, I was getting a lot of views and comments (mostly good) about the videos. People love video and people love hearing other people talk about the game. Related: Video Reports 101.
While the Mustangs/Ice Dogs game was exciting and close, the Ice/Brave game was very one sided. One of the drawbacks of the current system but also one of the benefits (for the winners, at least!) is that if you have one bad game, the loser is out. Having a bad game was not to the Brave’s advantage however the experience for next year will be great for them as a playing group. They have captured the imagination of the AIHL community and many people were hoping that they would go through to the Grand Final. However, this was not to be the case. It was not quite the happy ending they were looking for however dreams do not always come true. Unfortunately for the Ice Dogs and Brave fans that made the trip, they did not have reason to cheer at the end of the night. However, they took defeat rather well on and off the ice and will be stronger for next season. Related: Being Brave 101.
After the second game, I was able to interview members of both teams. At one end of the corridor, the Ice were looking forward to a Grand Final in a very calm and calculating way. Meanwhile at the other end of the corridor, the Brave were disappointed at the way their season ended but thankful that they got to that point. It was the first time that I had interviewed people from either club and they must have been wondering what a guy in a Bears jersey was doing interviewing them. What has happened at the Icehouse with the interviews I have conducted there is that there will be a group of media who will gather together. The player or coach will come in and the questions will start. It has been my experience that there is one person who usually leads in with a few questions, usually of a technical nature. After a few questions, that person will stop and another person asks some more questions. By this stage, most of the usual type questions that most media ask have been asked. Then I will ask questions that I as a relative new comer might want to know. For Saturday’s interviews, one question I asked both captains was about the mood in the respective dressing rooms. On Sunday, I asked each coach how long it would take for them to re-watch the video of the Grand Final. Somehow I don’t think that Mustangs coach Brad Vigon has managed to watch the video yet, as much as he would have liked to. Related: Interviewing 101.
After a game at the Icehouse, the Ice and their fans usually head to Harbour Town Hotel while the Mustangs head to Groove Train. Tonight was different, however. Both teams had a Grand Final to get ready for with a limited turnaround. The Mustangs/Ice Dogs game in particular was a physical game and they needed to give themselves the best chance to freshen up. There were no problems like that for the teams who did not need to back up the following day. Having a seat at the Commissioner’s table, the atmosphere in one half of Groove Train was very subdued on Saturday night. The other half was filled with the Brave players and fans celebrating how far they had come on a fairytale journey. The atmosphere would be totally different the following night. There was more of a chance to have a conversation which was appreciated after a long day of skating, networking and watching 2 games of hockey. I recommend the Fish & Chips at Groove Train and the steak at the Harbour Town Hotel. The post-game dinner is a good chance to interact with the players away from the arena.
Visiting fans should note that they would be welcome at either location and that the staff are well used to hockey fans coming in and wearing whatever clothes they are wearing to the game. Both establishments are club sponsors of the respective clubs and are ideally located to take advantage of the passing trade from the Icehouse after a game. Fans from either home team have welcomed me to both locations. Just make sure that if you are with a Mustangs fan or want to hang out with them, go to Groove Train. For the Ice, head to Harbour Town. As I found on Friday night, however, if there’s not a Mustangs or Ice game on at the Icehouse or an AFL game at Eithad Stadium, you might find the venues to be quiet or closed. Related: Post Game Celebrations 101.
After a long but enjoyable day, it was time to return to the hotel and get some sleep before Grand Final Day between the Mustangs and the Ice. For some fans and players from the teams not involved, there was no need for an early night. Following shortly is Sunday’s day through the eyes of a Bear.