By Mathilda Andersson [extract from 3506HUM Feature Writing]
Photo by: Mathilda Andersson
It’s 6:30am Sunday morning and a group of eager men have gathered in a large shipping container. This is where they change before warming up in the parking lot. Inside, a hand-full of people are impatiently waiting; shivering from the cold. The lack of seating is forcing spectator girlfriends and mothers to stretch their necks when desperately trying to get a glimpse of the players from the back of the arena. On the ice a tired Zamboni is chugging along the rink in what would most accurately be described as an old shed. The rink is deemed unplayable due to safety violations, but these men still turn up at this deficient venue three times a week to play the sport they love. I’m at Iceland, Bundall to watch The Gold Coast Grizzlys play ice hockey.
The season is well underway for the four teams playing in the only recreational league on the coast. The Iceland rink (or pond, as the members refer to it) has been the home of the Grizzlys since 1995, and the incorporated club is one of four Queensland clubs engaging in inter-team games. Being an incorporated club means the ice time at the arena is shared between the club and the public, making it difficult for management to keep a satisfactory skating surface for the players.
Australian born club President David De Witt is one of many volunteers around the country who are crucial in making the sport possible every season. Putting in several hours each week, David takes care of the financial part of the organization as well as practicalities around the rink and the league. He said that being club President is a tough position considering the lack of community support and the club’s financial restraints but figured that he “had to do it and since he have the experience and the passion, why not?” It sure is inevitable not to feel admiration for the people involved in making this neglected sport attainable on the Gold Coast. All the while the rest of the locals are down at Surfers Paradise beach, ten minutes away.
It’s people like David who keeps ice hockey alive in Australia. The sport and the club depend on him. With no government funding to speak of, it’s solely in the hands of club management to afford required renovations and regular maintenance of the Iceland rink. In effect, the local interest in the sport seems to have decreased this season along with worsened conditions.
“To get the youth involved you have to show parents a safe and reliable venue where their children can learn how to play the game properly,” he said.
The Gold Coast Grizzlys Ice Hockey Club are an example of an accessible club where players can feel a sense of ownership and where the sport is allowed to grow within the local community. Keeping the club on its feet and the teams together here on the Gold Coast is team spirit and passion, rather than skills and talent.
The most evident example of the sport’s dependency on appropriate skating facilities is The Gold Coast Blue Tongue’s suspension from the AIHL semi-professional league, due to safety concerns of their former home venue. According to owner Graham Sullivan, the ice hockey rink was never intended for semi-professional ice hockey games, but for recreational skating only. The condition of the facility has resulted in a two-year-long hiatus from the league, with the team unable to relocate.
So, is it time to throw in the towel and admit that the conditions are too dire for ice hockey on the Gold Coast? On the contrary.
Ice hockey is, and has been on the rise in Australia for some time now.The increasing public awareness has made it possible for the AIHL to sign two major sponsors in the past year, and with the media jumping on the bandwagon, game highlights are now aired on Fox Sports every week. Since founded back in 2000, the Australian flagship league has played more than 1000 games and entertained more than 500,000 avid fans all over Australia. For a minor sport still unknown to most Australians, this might be considered little short of a miracle.
According to CSIRO’s recent study on sport trends in Australia, high-thrill sports like ice hockey are growing nation-wide, and it’s growing fast. On the sunny Gold Coast, Queensland, the passion for the icy game remains resilient. IHQ Secretary Tanya Wray said the interest in ice hockey is definitely increasing throughout the state. This year almost 400 players registered to play in Queensland, seniors and juniors included. ”We even have a high interest and uptake amongst adults who are starting hockey, which is quite difficult when you consider you have to learn to skate as well as play hockey,” she said.
“Hockey is played from around 7 years old all the way through to adulthood, with the senior/masters ages also still participating,”
“It’s great for all age groups.”
Going to the hockey on the Gold Coast is entertaining. The pace is fast, the players are competitive and the game maintains a surprisingly high standard considering the humble rink. Tough conditions were a deal-breaker for the semi-pro team, but not necessarily for the sport. With the bears fighting their own battle, the question remains, is it possible for the local sports community to see the Blue Tongues rise from the ashes and reclaim their post as trailblazers on the coast?
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