When the Melbourne Ice were crowned team of the year at the 2018 Victorian Sport Awards, the significance of the achievement could not be ignored.
- Players have to pay at least $2,000 each to take part in the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League
- Ice Hockey Australia provides each AWIHL club with $9,000 a season but receives no regular financial support itself
- The sport relies heavily on volunteer support at the grassroots and senior levels
For starters, the women’s ice hockey team had just beaten out the reigning A-League champions (Melbourne Victory), the 2018 AFLW premiers (Western Bulldogs) and the 2017/18 NBL winners (Melbourne United) to claim the prestigious honour.
But what was most staggering about the triumph of the Melbourne Ice, who are seven-time Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL) champions, is the fact their players are forced to play for the “love of the game”, forking out at least $2,000 of their own money each season.
The burden this places on the players and their families is enormous, even when governing body Ice Hockey Australia (IHA) provides $9,000 per season to each of the five AWIHL clubs, the same amount it gives the men’s teams.
But for Melbourne Ice vice-captain and Australian representative Georgia Moore any financial or emotional cost is worthwhile for the opportunity to play the sport she loves.
“The fees can be quite extensive, we pay $2,000 every year to play, plus pay for equipment, and we still rely on sponsors to support the team,” Moore told the ABC.
“For the girls that are still in school, their parents have to take on this big cost.
“It can be quite strenuous. You have to have that love of the game or I don’t think you’d be able to do it.”
Moore, who credits the Disney film Mighty Ducks for helping introduce her to ice hockey, knows firsthand the sacrifices so many parents make to help their children fulfil their sporting dreams.
“My mum worked two jobs for as long as I can remember to put me through all the sports I was playing,” she said.
“I started getting more competitive and had to choose my sport of choice and I chose ice hockey and they’ve always been encouraging and supportive.”
IHA receives no regular financial support but is the recipient of what it describes as “token funding” given by the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Australian Olympic Committee for travel support to attend overseas competition.
Volunteer support at the grassroots and senior levels is crucial, while players like Moore have taken it upon themselves to develop their game outside of Australia in ice hockey strongholds like Canada.
International talent boosting local ice hockey scene
The sport in Australia has also benefited from athletes moving from overseas.
Melbourne Ice captain Christina Julien moved to Australia after a distinguished international career representing the Canadian national women’s football team.
Julien grew up in Ontario and was on skates by the time she was four years old, but she was forced to give up ice hockey at age 18 when she accepted a university football scholarship.
She went on to play for Canada at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany and won a gold medal with the national team the same year at the Pan American Games held in Mexico.
While playing for German club FC Koln Julien had the chance to come to Melbourne to complete her university degree, so “cold emailed” the Melbourne Ice, who welcomed her with open arms.
“I was getting to the age where I wanted to do something that I loved and was trying to find an old passion I’d had,” the 30-year-old said.
“Ice hockey had always been there, [so] having the chance to come here and play in a national league was a no-brainer for me.
“I got back on the ice and loved it, and haven’t looked back since.”
Julien, who turns 31 next month, acknowledges the Australian ice hockey community is not as big as in Canada but she is impressed with its “tight-knit” and “supportive” environment.
AWIHL games are streamed on YouTube and Julien is hopeful increased exposure will attract higher levels of sponsorship so as to relieve some of the financial pressure on players.
“We’ve got a couple of thousand watching, which is quite amazing,” Julien said.
“I think the more exposure we have the better it is for us to get sponsors and some money, because it’s all about subsidising those fees for us.”
Moore, who moved to Canada at 17 to “immerse” herself in ice hockey culture, was encouraged during her time overseas to witness changes made to the sport in North America, most notably payments being made to female players.
The rise of the AFLW competition in Australia has also buoyed Moore and she believes that may help trigger other sports to begin the process of at least becoming semi-professional.
“I heard snippets about the AFLW and how emerging women’s sport was and coming back to Australia it’s been fantastic to see,” Moore said.
“I think we’re starting to see that through ice hockey as well. I don’t think it will happen for my generation but if we continue to grow the sport for future generations to see those girls getting paid to play the sport would be phenomenal.”
Topics: winter-sports, ice-hockey, sport, melbourne-3000
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