After the NHL wrapped up its season, I made the comment on Twitter this past weekend to the effect of, “Isn’t there like an Australian hockey league or something I can watch?”
I made this comment because after the F1 race on Sunday afternoon, the sports watching options were…lacking to say the least.
Well, it turns out my off-hand joke of a comment turned out to be a real thing! And a friend pointed out to me the AIHL: the Australian Ice Hockey League, which runs pretty similarly to my idea for a summer hockey league, it’s just in Australia, where it is winter, AKA, hockey season.
And it turns out the AIHL isn’t exactly a new idea. The league started in 2000 with just three teams, and has remained pretty steady over the ensuing 18 years, and now sits at eight teams this season, which runs from mid-April thru the late August or early September. It’s even sanctions by the IIHF, so it’s at least pretty legit.
The eight teams are, pick your favorite: Adelaide Adrenaline, CBR Brave, Melbourne Ice, Melbourne Mustangs, Newcastle Northstars, Perth Thunder, Sydney Bears, Sydney Ice Dogs. All of these teams are in the southeastern part of Australia, except for Perth, which is WAY the hell out west, with the Melbourne and Sydney teams sharing rinks. Most of the rinks are FHL sized, with 1000 to 2000 seats, while the rink in Melbourne holds a whopping 6500.
The season structure is simple enough, with four games against each of the other seven teams for a 28-game season, and then single game playoffs for the four teams that make the playoffs. Oh, and in a refreshing move, they play with a 3-2-1 point system, 3 for a win, 2 for an OT or shootout win, 1 for an OT or shootout loss, 0 for a regulation loss.
They also have some interesting timing rules for these games, playing two 15 minute periods and then one 20 minute third period because…I have no idea. I can’t figure out why they thought that was a good idea, but I’m not one to argue with Australian hockey.
Now, at this point you may be wondering about what caliber of play this league has, especially given that it’s an off-season league in Australia, and one that doesn’t pay the players, but gives them cars and housing for the season. And it turns out, not bad! One follow of ours on Twitter reached out and said that he had two friends who played in the league, one who still plays in the league, and noted that they had all played in the SPHL for extended stretches, and according to the league’s Wikipedia, there have even been guys who played in the league that went on to the NHL and AHL, so there is talent in the league, maybe not top-to-bottom like the SPHL or that, but there are some quality players.
I sat down and watched the first period of the game, and in all honesty, the play wasn’t bad at all! It wasn’t ECHL, but probably right on par with the FHL.
And best of all, there are games broadcast FOR FREE on YouTube each week. Serioues, there’a an AIHL.tv page that steams the games for the teams that have streaming capabilities. Unfortunately, according to the AIHL website, only the Melbourne Ice, Melbourne Mustangs, and Newcastle Northstars regularly broadcast their games, and at that, they only show home games. So while there are games every weekend, there may not be many available for streaming. Oh, and because the games are in Australia, the streams will routinely start at 2 a.m., or if you’re lucky, as early as 10:30 p.m. here in the States and Canada.
As of now, the season is about one-third of the way done, with no team playing more than 12 games so far, so there’s plenty of time to pick out a favorite team, settle in for some late-night Australian hockey on YouTube, and ready for the North American season to start.
Summer hockey, it was here all along and we didn’t even know it! We just didn’t think it would be happening in Australia.