Once a powerhouse of the AIHL, the Melbourne Ice now find themselves on a path to sustained success as youth development becomes the priority.
As some teams loaded up with Australian and imported talent heading into the 2022 AIHL season, the Ice were moving into a different direction: focusing on local talent through junior pathways.
The former Goodall Cup champions have a long-term vision for the club.
“We were faced with a team that fundamentally we had been clinging onto for the last five or ten years without replenishing it,” Melbourne Ice Team Governor Peter Hartshorne told The Inner Sanctum.
“We didn’t really have an option.
“A lot of our players just retired, had babies, Chris Wong is doing a food truck, building houses, and those sorts of things.
“We are doing a rebuild but we really didn’t have a choice, we clung onto the juniors and that’s our story moving forward.”
With COVID and lockdowns sweeping the country the Melbourne Ice built a junior setup, focusing on producing homegrown talent for future AIHL seasons.
Teaming up with the Wolves Ice Hockey Club, the Ice now have a pathway for players to eventually make the transition into the AIHL.
“During the lockdown one of the things we did at the Melbourne Ice was build a junior club with the Wolves,” Hartshorne continued.
“We have done a collaboration; we have got 70 kids in that club now, some of them even in the top layer have moved themselves into the AIHL team.
“Probably a little bit before they should, but that’s what has started to happen already.
“That club is actually pushing players up already, which we didn’t anticipate for another three or four years.”
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With a fresh direction a total buy in across the club was needed.
Former stars departing provided an opportunity for players in their mid-twenties, and these players have now become leaders on the ice.
Across a three-year span the Ice went from an average age of 34 years down to 23.
They now hope that the focus on junior development will pay dividends sooner rather than later.
“He’s [Sam Hodic] a veteran at 25,” Hartshorne said.
“There is four or five of them, they are leading the way with the juniors. It’s not just us, it’s player lead.”
With a long-term plan to produce their own talent, the Ice will be looking to build a generation of AIHL players.
In that crop of players, they are looking to both recruit and develop, the club hopes to find some future hockey stars.
“We want that whole generation to be Ice players,” Hartshorne continued.
“Out of that generation you need two or three generational players like Tommy Powell and Lliam Webster.”
Despite the results on the ice this season, membership figures are still strong in the AIHL for the Ice.
Defeating the Melbourne Mustangs in the final derby instalment of the season, it’s clear that the Ice are on the right track with what they’re building.
Fresh challenges and a two-year COVID break, the Ice are thankful for the support the fans have given the club.
“It’s just one of gratitude and thanks,” Hartshorne said.
“It hurts when you don’t see your old regular players there and I know that. The fans that stick with us are the ones that stick with us.
“To retool, we are setting ourselves up for ten years.”
Short term pain for long term gain with a decade long vision. Beware the sleeping giant.
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