17/04/2024

A Melbourne Ice player in action during the 2019/20 AWIHL season. (Photo: Melbourne Ice Women's Team/Facebook)

It will be 1,015 days since the Melbourne Ice women’s team last hit a puck in anger in the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League when they take on the Adelaide Rush in their opening match of the 2022/23 season on Saturday, November 12.

Three years ago during the 2019/20 season, the Ice would finish third on the AWIHL standings, going out in the semi-finals to the Rush team they will kick start their campaign against.

Under new coach Rod Johns, their preparation couldn’t have been any better leading into the upcoming season. Having their roster filled with a majority of Victorian based players, the Ice were able to build towards the opening night with plenty of games in the bank following a recent National Championships.

“To be completely honest with you I think the preseason has gone really well,” Johns told The Inner Sanctum.

“We just finished the women’s national competition and that’s state versus state, I coached the Victorian team, and we actually won the gold medal.

“Probably 98 per cent of the players on the state team are the players on Melbourne Ice women.

“As far as the preseason went, we probably have had upwards of close to twenty practices and we are ready to rock and roll.”

The 2022/23 Melbourne Ice roster. (Image: Melbourne Ice Women’s Team/Facebook)

Having the national state competition roll into the AWIHL has been the perfect form line for the Ice as they approach the season.

From practices to gameday matches through that state competition, it has given the Ice time to get minutes into the legs of each player, but also work on structures and how they want to play.

“We have a pretty good idea of what our structure is going to be for Melbourne Ice,” Johns continued.

“And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that it will reflect a lot of what we did on the state side, so that’s pretty good.”

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A new season will always bring fresh hope among fanbases of what might be as first puck drop approaches, and for many teams the injection of young talent to get excited about is what will draw people through the turnstiles.

For Melbourne, Danielle Butler is the new kid on the block. Following a standout National Championships performance for Victoria where she finished top scorer with 21 points (12 goals, 11 assists), the excitement with Butler coming into the AWIHL is at an all-time high.

“Spenser [Robbins] who is the President of the Saints [Saints Monarchs Ice Hockey Club] and I coached the Saints A Grade,” Johns explained.

“So, Spenser had a practice I wasn’t at and Danielle came out to it and Spenser said to me, ‘you want to see this girl, she is good’. She was probably one of the best if not the best the players on the ice at practice.

“I heard about her before she came out to the first state practice and when I saw her right away I thought to myself, ‘this girl can skate, she has got a hockey brain and she’s got a shot’.

“She brings tenacity, she brings skill as far as her ability to snipe pucks wherever she wants to snipe them. So, she will certainly be an offensive threat.”

After falling short of the Joan McKowen Memorial Trophy final in 2019/20, there is a sense of unfinished business for a lot of the Ice players who are still on the roster from that campaign.

Following the success of the Victorian state team, the senior Ice women are hungry to continue that wave into the AWIHL season and go that one step better this time around.

“I think [the players will be hungry for success], without a doubt. Especially after we won the National Championships – people look at the AWIHL as the next step,” continued Johns.

“I think for sure they want nothing more than to actually take the next step and win the whole thing.

“There are two frames of mind – one is that we won the nationals and so we have a very good chance at winning the AWIHL, but then the other avenue is maybe the other states didn’t bring their best players.

“I don’t think it is going to be easy, but I think we certainly have the team to do it. I think that the senior girls want to do it for sure, and want nothing more than that.”

As the Ice make their way across the border to South Australia to face last season’s finalist Adelaide Rush in enemy territory, they won’t be daunted by the challenge.

Melbourne Ice are laced and padded up ready to hit the ice in their quest to bring another trophy back to the O’Brien Icehouse.

“Watch this space and watch the progression of the team,” said Johns.

“Because we really have a solid team to actually take this on seriously and bring the championship banner back to the Icehouse. So, bring it on!”

The Ice and the Rush do battle at the Ice Arena, Adelaide, across the weekend of November 12-13.

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