Final Series May Give Home-Town Advantage to Northstars
The 2019 Australian Ice Hockey League season has been one of redemption for the Newcastle Rescue Northstars. Having failed to finish in a top-four ladder position the past two AIHL seasons, in 2019, the Northstars have given it their all to ensure a return to the top of the league and to be a contender for the season-defining finals series.
The sweat, blood, sacrifice and hard work put in by Newcastle's national ice hockey team this season was rewarded in July when the AIHL commission announced Hunter Ice Skating Stadium, home to the Northstars, would be the location for the 2019 AIHL Finals. The Finals Series will see the top four teams, their staff and supporters fill up the Warner's Bay rink on the weekend of August 31 and September 1 to playoff for the ultimate prize – the championship.
The announcement was a special one for the Newcastle team. Newcastle hosted the last finals series, in 2012, before it moved to Melbourne for six consecutive years. After a year of hard work, hosting the finals series again is a sweet reward.
Just three wins away from securing their finals spot, once locked in the Northstars have the opportunity to win a seventh AIHL Championship – and in front of a home crowd. Ice hockey finals have a long history of surprises.
The AIHL has been operating since 2000, and each season since 2003 the best four teams have played for the 110-year-old Goodall Cup, the greatest treasure of the sport in this country.
Back in 2003, the first-ever finals series was held in the then brand new Glaciarium rink at Baulkham Hills in Sydney’s Northwest, and it was the first time that the event ran as a full weekend of semi-finals on the Saturday and grand-final on the Sunday. It is a format that remains in place today.
In 2003, the Adelaide Avalanche were massive favourites to continue their dominant regular-season form but were upset by the Sydney Ice Dogs in the semi-final, who were in turn upset by the Newcastle Northstars in the grand-final.
In 2004, the finals were held at the newest ice rink in the country, the Erina Ice Arena on NSW’s Central Coast. This time it was the Northstars who were strong favourites, only to be upset by the Ice Dogs in the grand-final.
Throughout the AIHL’s history, there have been more upset winners than favourites, with the exception of the last two seasons when Melbourne Ice and then Canberra Brave went on to win the cup after record-setting successes during the regular season.
Brave is the only team locked into the 2019 AIHL Finals with hosts the Northstars all but secured in their place. The next two places are yet to be secured, but in the spirit of AIHL Finals, there’s sure to be some surprises along the way.