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Give Your Kids an Amazing Adventure… With Ice Hockey!

For Newcastle’s Amelia Matheson ice hockey isn’t just a sport – it’s her life. The 32-year-old has spent the past two decades on skates after falling in love with ice hockey as a 12-year-old. Since then the Newcastle woman has travelled the world and made a name for herself as a member of the Australian women’s ice hockey team, as well as the captain of the Sydney Sirens in the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League.

The defensive player credits her lifelong love of the game and the wonderful experiences it has given her, to her first fledgeling efforts on the ice at the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium in Warners Bay. “My hockey career actually began on rollerblades, as a 12-year-old girl wanting to be a part of an extreme sport,” Matheson said.

“Dancing just didn’t cut it. Our local inline rink ended up shutting down, and two years before that the (Warners Bay) ice rink had opened, but I was so dedicated to inline hockey I didn’t dare give it a go... until I had no choice, because I needed hockey in my life.

“But it was a choice that was meant to be. That moment when I began playing ice hockey I knew this was my forever sport. I thought inline was great, but turns out ice hockey was greater!

“I’ve had an amazing adventure growing up in this sport, being pushed as a player and coach and pushing myself to my limits earning positions on local representative teams, NSW state teams, the AWIHL Sydney Sirens team and the Australian National Women’s Team, which have taken me all over the country and world including places like Finland, Canada, South Korea, Czech Republic and more. “I’m so grateful for the opportunities I have gained throughout my journey. Hockey is more than just a sport. It’s my way of life.”

With its world-renowned beaches and temperate winter climate, ice hockey isn’t exactly the first sport of choice you’d associate with Newcastle.

Above: Ameila Matheson

But growing numbers of both children and adults are choosing to spend their spare time inside the icy surrounds of the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium at Warners Bay, where both learn to play programs and competitions for all ages are on offer.

The stadium is also the home rink of the incredibly successful Newcastle Northstars men’s team, which has won the Australian Ice Hockey League’s coveted Goodall Cup a record six times during their 15 seasons in the national competition, including back-to-back championships in 2005/2006 and again in 2015/2016.

The Northstars are littered with homegrown products, including local junior Mathew Lindsay, a star defenceman who is a regular member of the Australian Men’s national team, the MightyRoos. Like Matheson, Lindsay also started off as an inline hockey player before making the switch to the ice-based version when he was 10.

A regular in state-level teams from the start, Lindsay made his first Australian representative side in 2008 and the following year joined the Northstars men’s team, aged 19. “Ice hockey in Australia gives players an incredible opportunity to excel and play on the world stage and at the highest levels,” he said.

“I have competed and trained all over the world, and it all started right here in Newcastle.” With such a successful team within Newcastle’s midst, it is little wonder junior numbers at the rink are stronger than ever. While at the highest level the sport may be known, among other things, for its intense speed and crunching on-ice clashes, ice hockey actually begins as a non-contact game.

Knowing how to get started in ice hockey may be one of the biggest barriers for new players, but Hunter Ice Skating Stadium and the Northstars Academy (NSA) are hoping to remove that obstacle and let people experience the fun firsthand with some free “Try Hockey” nights this month.

NSA is made up of Newcastle Northstars players past and present who are passionate about growing the game and giving back to the ice hockey community. Their accredited coaches run development clinics, hockey camps and the in-house ice hockey competitions at the rink.

At the “Try Hockey” nights both children and adults will have a chance to try ice hockey first hand during free one-hour sessions with the NSA coaches.

Participants will be given skates, basic protective equipment including a helmet and pads, and one of the elongated ice hockey sticks they’ll need to get their first taste of handling a puck. While no prior ice hockey experience is necessary, potential players should at least be able to skate unaided.

Should the one-hour sessions leave participants with a yearning for more, they can then enrol in the regular Monday night ice hockey development sessions, which are held at the rink in conjunction with school terms. Players are grouped into age and ability levels and start with the basics like stick handling, stopping and skating backwards.

Once competent, players can progress to more advanced techniques such as shooting the puck and simulated game situations. When a player is considered ready for competition they can join a team in the local league, which has four divisions from beginner to expert.

Aspiring younger players under the age of 11 can also get involved in the “Youngstars” program, which is focused on instilling the foundations of hockey, teamwork and sportsmanship in a fun environment. The Youngstars train and play in competitions locally, and a selected team competes in state and interstate competitions throughout the year.

For a lot of players, the fun and social element of the in-house competitions will be excitement enough. But for players looking to further their ice hockey careers, there are a number of pathways.

Newcastle has strong representative teams in all divisions from “PeeWee” under 14’s level right through to seniors, as well as in the women’s leagues, East Coast Super League and the Australian Ice Hockey League.

Those good enough could even dream of a future in the prestigious North American competition, the NHL, following in the skates of Sydney junior Nathan Walker, who recently became the first Australian-born player in the NHL as a member of the 2018 Stanley Cup championship-winning Washington Capitals team.

For more information about competitions or learn to play programs visit www.hiss.com.au, or head over to the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium on October 14 or 15 for the free “Try Hockey” sessions.

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