Conference B in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) not only contains the reigning Goodall Cup champion, but the runner-up, an expansion team and two teams returning to the competition following the COVID pandemic.
With the conference containing the CBR Brave coming off their second championship in three seasons, a Newcastle Northstars team that were finalists in 2022, returning clubs in the Adelaide Adrenaline and Central Coast Rhinos, and the exciting expansion team Brisbane Lightning.
There is so much unknown in how Conference B will shape for the 2023 AIHL season and that is what makes it such an intriguing prospect.
The Inner Sanctum looks at each team and their off season moves.
Last season: 8th (2019)
A club with strong history and former Goodall Cup champions (2009) the return of the Adrenaline was a much needed one for the AIHL and they haven’t messed around with their off season moves.
Zachary Boyle was the first signing announced heading from the Melbourne Ice and returning back to Adelaide, and the local flavour continued with Jeremy Friederich, Joey MacDougall, Ben Handberg, Steve Best, Ryan Foll and brothers Andrew and Daniel Chen all putting pen to paper.
24-year-old Canadian center Darcy Walsh looks like a strong addition down the middle, as does fellow countryman Andrew Hamilton on the left wing. However, the signing of Nathaniel Benson looks to be the most exciting of the bunch. The 22-year-old is a rising star of Australian ice hockey and is coming off a strong season in the Pacific Hockey League with the Adelaide Avalanche where he put up 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) from 18 games.
With a strong focus on local Adelaide talent and a mixture of high-quality imports the Adrenaline will be must watch this season.
Last season: (First in competition)
New kids on the block Brisbane Lightning have only announced one import signing at the time of writing, towering Canadian defender Alexis Girard will make the trip down under after spending junior years in the QMJHL and most recently the SPHL.
Some quality veterans with plenty of AIHL experience is scattered throughout the roster, with a surprise to many and one that should have Lightning fans excited is the signing of goaltender Glen Forbes-White. The former Sydney Bears netminder had a strong 2022 season and should be a strong presence between the pipes for the expansion club.
Damian Bright will once again captain the club and will be a strong leader across the blueline, add in the young U20 Australian national team talent in the likes of Lachlan Clifford and the Lightning won’t be a walk over in the AIHL.
If the Lightning can get their import signings on the mark, they should be very competitive.
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Last season: 1st
The reigning AIHL champions are a club that seems to be going from strength to strength, and the Brave will once again be the benchmark for the competition heading into the 2023 season.
A month full of re-signing news came in March as the Brave locked up key personnel that has done so well for them in their recent Goodall Cup runs, with current league MVP Casey Kubara among others committing for 2023. The big news, however, was the departure of Wehebe Darge to the Newcastle Northstars. The three-time AIHL Champion will leave big shoes to fill on the wings after playing an important role in the Braves past two championship teams.
Even with a lack of import news coming out of the nation’s capital, the Brave will still be the team to beat in 2023 off the back of all their current stars recommitting to the club.
Central Coast Rhinos
Last season: 8th (2008)
The AIHL returned to the Central Coast after the announcement back in September 2022 that the Rhinos would once again be playing out of Erina Ice Arena, the first time in 15 years the club will play in the country’s premier competition.
They wasted no time getting to work organising their roster with news of import signings in January showed the Rhinos mean business in 2023. It was a Swedish invasion as Albin Torstensson and Joakim Erdugan both signed, while Canadian goaltender Andrew Masters also committed. Forward David-James Jeremy is moving across from the Northstars, as is veteran Robert Malloy.
The Rhinos will be an interesting watch in 2023 but with the leadership of Malloy on the ice and in the locker room we can expect a tough competitive outfit.
A club that is always in the mix when it comes to the Goodall Cup each season the Northstars will be once again a contender in 2023.
Five Canadian imports will join the Northstars in 2023 with forwards Josh Adkins, Riley Klugerman, Andrew Smardon, Zane Jones who returns to the club after five seasons away, and defender Tanner Butler will add ECHL and SPHL experience across the blueline
Their big off-season acquisition was Wehebe Darge who moves from the Brave to Newcastle and will add plenty across their forward pairings. Current AIHL Rookie of the Year Ethan Hawes departing will be a blow for the Northstars, however, with the likes of Daniel Berno, Liam Manwarring and Partick Nadin all coming back to the Northstars for another tilt at the crown it will be all eyes on the six-time AIHL Champions.
Newcastle have always been a competitive and strong AIHL team with 2023 looking no different in the newly formed Conference B.
Rosters are at time of writing as full squads continue to be announced.
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