Carving up the Competition
The Newcastle Rescue Northstars are enjoying their best start to an Australian Ice Hockey League season in franchise history. A combination of strong pre-season training, attention to detail and dedicated leadership within and surrounding the team has seen the Northstars rack up an impressive win rate in their run at the 2019 AIHL Championship.
Now more than halfway through the season and with minimal losses to their name the Northstars sit at the top of the AIHL ladder. And it is not a position they are planning to give up any time soon. “I’m very happy the way we have come out of the gate this year,” Northstars coach John Kennedy Jr said.
“I’m happy with how the boys are playing. We’ve been playing good hockey. We’ve been tested in a couple of games, where it’s been tight, but we’ve come out on top. That’s the story of our team this year - we find a way to win. We come to the rink every game expecting to win, and that’s not just because we are the Newcastle Northstars – it’s because of our attention to detail, our effort and our team play.”
The Northstars have been a force in the AIHL since it joined in 2002, having won six championships up until 2016.
The past two years have been a challenge for the Northstars, with the team ending their seasons in the middle of the pack and missing out on playing in the finals.
The return to the winner’s circle was a priority this year, and the work that has gone into making that happen appears to be paying dividends.
The Northstars were riding high on a seven-game win streak in the opening weeks of the 2019 season until the Melbourne Mustangs snapped it. However, the team were quick to shake it off and went on to beat the Mustangs in their meeting the following week.
While the Northstars have had their fair share of convincing wins, they have also had a few tough games that were determined by going goal-for-goal.
In more than one game the Northstars have come from behind to secure the win which Kennedy said showed a lot of character by the players.
Kennedy added that the team as a whole had meshed this year well despite some heavy movement in the lines. Czech import Ondrej Smach left at the end of May to return to the Magnus Ligue in France while Dominik Gabaj returned home to Slovakia at the start of June to heal following an extensive wrist injury.
The pair were two of the Northstars’ leading goal scorers at the time, but their departure opened the doors to Canadians Luke Simpson and Trey Phillips who made an impressive debut in the league not 48 hours after touching down in Australia.
With just one team training session under their belt, both still scored goals in their first game of the year against Sydney Ice Dogs.
“I feel like we'll soon see them really hit their groove with their timing, passing and working with their linemates,” Kennedy said.
“I see them having a high contribution to the team, as you would expect from any import. At the end of the day, they add on to what the team already is.”
The Northstars’ greatest competition this season is defending AIHL champions Canberra Brave – with Kennedy labelling the Brave a “formidable opponent.”
“Everyone knows that these are the top two teams,” he said. “But we’re ready for them.”
Northstars and Brave will go head-to-head in Canberra on July 20 and at Hunter Ice Skating Stadium in Warner’s Bay on July 21. Stay up to date with Newcastle Northstars news on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or northstars.theaihl.com