Australia is quite the sport-loving nation, to say the least. Give us players to cheer for and team colours to wear, and we’re pretty much golden, no matter what the game. Certain sports are more widely followed and played, of course, but many sports lovers are open to trying out different things, whether in the stands or on the field of play. For Novocastrians over the past few decades, one of those things has been ice hockey.
The local ice hockey scene has had its ups and downs, but if there’s someone who’s been at the forefront through thick and thin, it’s Garry Doré, General Manager of both the Newcastle Northstars and the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium. Garry moved to Australia in 1981 from his home country of Canada – where ice hockey is, of course, an official national sport.
“I had two older brothers, and of course my parents were fanatical hockey fans. I followed in their footsteps and started playing probably when I was six or seven years old, in a small town on Vancouver Island,” Garry says. “It was pretty much our life. Hockey all winter and baseball, softball and box lacrosse all summer. We pretty much couldn’t wait for September when we got back on the ice again.”
Garry first moved here as an import hockey player for the Newcastle Northstars. At the time, the Northstars played as part of a national league, then a NSW super league in 1982.
“Unfortunately, in 1982, halfway through the season, our rink closed down,” Garry explains. “It was pretty sad because we had quite a powerful team that year, but that was pretty much it… there was no more hockey in Newcastle.”
Approaching his mid-20s at the time, Garry knew he wouldn’t be able to pursue the same professional opportunities if he returned to Canada. But was that the only reason he chose to remain here on our sunny shores? “Well,” he laughs, “fortunately for me, I met a beautiful young lady in Newcastle, and I was staying! I wasn’t going anywhere, and I haven’t looked back.”
He did go on to play for the Sydney Bears from 1985–87, but after joining the NSW Police Force and starting a family with his wife Leanne, it was difficult to keep up with the sport. For more than ten years, hockey faded somewhat into the background – only to make a return in a big way in 2000, when the development of Warners Bay’s Hunter Ice Skating Stadium began.
“I was retired at the time as a police officer and met a fellow who was building an ice rink. One thing led to another, and I started managing the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium,” Garry says. “And then hockey just went crazy – it just took off. [There were] lots of ex-pats, a lot of Canadians in Newcastle, and Americans. We were doing a lot of inline hockey, so the transition to ice was very easy. We got quite a substantial ice hockey development program going – we had hundreds of kids playing.”
The community continued to grow. In the early 2000's, the Newcastle Northstars joined five other teams in what is now the country’s top-level league, the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL). Garry became the General Manager for his former team, switching to coaching duties for a couple of years before returning to his management role once more.
To this day, he’s heavily involved with promoting and furthering the sport, its players and its local teams. And the approach seems to be working – not just for player recruitment and development, but for fan involvement too. Most games are nearly sold out, and die-hard fans eagerly await the return of the winter months. “The speed, the excitement, the adrenaline… It’s just second to none, and I think that’s what blows a lot of people away,” Garry explains. “And you’re so close to it. You’re right there. You’ve got a bit of glass and some boards in between you and the game. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
It’s clear to see that Garry’s passion for ice hockey is as strong, if not stronger than ever, and he’s dedicated to seeing its community flourish. “I will be here for a long time to come,” he says. “It’s a big part of my life; it’s what brought me to Australia. Someone kept me here, but it’s been a full circle for me. And I just enjoy it. It’s just the whole atmosphere, the positive people that surround us. We’re growing – we’ve started to develop our management system, our coaching and training programs, and I think we have a big future. We’re looking ahead all the time.”
So what is ahead for Garry and the local ice hockey scene? “Our goal is to develop our Newcastle and Central Coast kids to have an opportunity to play at the highest level in the country, and hopefully represent the country at some stage,” he says.
“And if I can be a little part of that – for those players to move on and have that opportunity; for Newcastle to have another elite sporting team that goes in day in, day out to win championships and put themselves out there for it – for me, that’s enough to motivate and keep me going for quite a few years to come.”
For more information about ice hockey in Newcastle, check out the Newcastle Northstars Facebook page or visit www.hiss.com.au