Wehebe Darge in action for the Newcastle Northstars in their Indigenous designed special edition jersey. (Photo: Jess Fuller/Newcastle Northstars Facebook. Design: Madeline Irwin)

When it was announced in March 2023 that Wehebe Darge would be moving to the Newcastle Northstars it made big waves across the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) community. Darge was coming off a Goodall Cup winning season with the CBR Brave and had spent four successful seasons in the nation’s capital.

The three-time Goodall Cup champion is one of the most highly decorated players Australia has produced – 240 games in the AIHL, successful stints in North America and Europe, and winning gold for the Australian national team.

It was 12 months in the making for Darge who nearly made the Newcastle switch for the 2022 AIHL season, instead staying with the Brave for one more championship run and then making the Northstars move.

Wehebe Darge battles for the puck along the boards against the Central Coast Rhinos. (Photo: Sam Miller/Newcastle Northstars Facebook)

“It has been a bit of an adjustment, but the boys have been extremely welcoming, the whole organisation has been welcoming,” Darge told The Inner Sanctum.

“It kind of feels a little bit of a long time coming because we obviously moved here over 12 months ago now. It was up in the air if I was going to be there [Northstars] or not last year but decided to stay with the Brave.

“The move has been fantastic, everyone has been really hospitable, you can see everyone trying to make me feel welcome, it’s been awesome.”

Like many teams within the AIHL the start to the season has thrown up curve balls as players were on national team duties representing Australia and New Zealand, and imports had yet to arrive in the country.

Back-to-back losses in Melbourne to start the season, including an 0-11 scoreline against the Mustangs, wasn’t cause for alarm but showed how thin the Northstars squad was running at the time. However, there is a feeling of the Northstars starting to turn the corner now that key personnel have returned.

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“Yeah absolutely, even with the loss that we had to the Brave on Saturday, guys are aware that we have only just started to come together as a team,” continued Darge.

“That first weekend in Melbourne we had something like eight guys out of our starting line-up missing, maybe a few more. So, it was kind of not a huge shock when those results came. That loss to Canberra it hurts, especially personally it hurts, I feel like the boys are really still just coming together.

“I still haven’t had a practice with the team obviously since the season started, for me personally still getting to know everyone personally and also how they play, I feel there are a few key players in a similar boat to me.

“No one is taking it too seriously right now, we are aware that we are a long way from September, but obviously definitely some things to build on and we got to move in a different direction from how we have been playing recently.”

It only took four weeks before Darge would come up against his former team, a trip to familiar surroundings, where two Goodall Cup triumphs had been achieved as part of the Brave playing out of Phillip Ice Skating Centre.

Chirping from across the bench wasn’t at the level Darge was expecting prior to puck drop, however, former teammate Joey Hughes did have a few words of encouragement throughout the three periods.

“Honestly not as much as I expected,” said Darge.

“There were a few little chirps here and there through the game, me, and Joey [Hughes] got into it a little bit, but we have been playing with or against each other for a long time.

“It was expected, and I love the way he plays, and he competes, it’s always fun to battle.”

Darge getting it done on the defensive end for the Northstars. (Photo: Jess Fuller/Newcastle Northstars Facebook)

Darge, 31, isn’t slowing down either, coming off three consecutive 50+ point seasons. There is still plenty of ice hockey ahead for the Australian international who is in his twelfth AIHL season.

Darge is currently on 399 career AIHL points, one short of 400 mark, an amazing feat after losing two AIHL seasons due to the COVID pandemic, and it’s something the Northstars forward is extremely proud of.

“It would be a pretty big accomplishment for me personally,” continued Darge.

“I wasn’t even aware of my actual points, but I do kind of have this little secret that I haven’t really told anyone, but I guess it’s kind of out now. Greg Oddy who is the all-time points scorer in the AIHL (615 pts), he has been one of my mentors growing up, he was my captain in Adelaide for a lot of years.

“I have always wanted to chase down that record that he set, but obviously with COVID, missing a few seasons didn’t really help the point tally. I’ve got to get over this 400-point hump I guess and hopefully I can do that soon.”

An AIHL career that was started in his hometown of Adelaide with the Adrenaline in 2009, Darge now finds himself at his third stop after spending four seasons with the Brave.

While the future can never be predicted, for Darge and his family they are loving life in Newcastle, with the Northstars a likely final stop on a career that has spanned across the world.

“It looks that way, we love it here, we love living here,” said Darge.

“The way that the organisation has treated me I can’t see myself going anywhere else.

“Very welcoming place, family orientated, my partner loves the organisation as well, so I can’t see myself going anywhere else.”

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