There was disappointment as the end of the season never materialised in the UK, but in Australia, there’s real doubt over whether the 2020 campaign will ever start, according to one of their coaches.
Scotsman Andrew Petrie is in charge at Sydney Ice Dogs and should have been preparing for the season opener against Canberra Brave on Saturday, but the coronavirus has impacted as much in Australia as it has in the UK.
Originally from Greenock, Petrie’s accent is more Crocodile Dundee than Dundee these days and it’s been quite a year in the country, with bushfires, floods and now Covid-19 taking its toll on people’s lives.
Petrie, who is also the governor of the club – the role of a representative to the AIHL – reckons in his own opinion, there may not be a 2020 season for fans.
“The other seven governors and myself, along the commission who run the league are in constant contact as this situation continues and the reality is, until we can gather in groups, it’s not going to be possible to have a league,” he said.
“The further that goes, the less likely we’ll see a season at all. There hasn’t been an official announcement to say the league for 2020 has cancelled officially, but if I’m reading between the lines, the thought of any kind of normal or a full league is highly unlikely, which is disappointing for everyone, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in.
“I can’t speak for the league. I can only speak for my club and my gut feel is I can’t see it happening. Certainly not in any full, eight-team national capacity.
“Most of us do this because we love it and we’re working towards some kind of an outcome. We just don’t know how it’s going to look.
“In financial terms, I can’t speak of how it will impact on the league, but I would imagine, sponsorship money won’t be collected as it will be the same for us at the Ice Dogs, plus there won’t be any ticket sales.
“We run on an annual budget, which we burn through every year. If we get the green light to get cracking on 2021, we’ll probably have a six-month run into that and the season itself will be bigger and better as a result.”
The 53-year-old emigrated to Australia in the mid-70’s and played and coached most of his career in the country, including having coached Newcastle North Stars previously.
He returned to his native Scotland in the 90’s to try out for Paisley Pirates, but would have needed to come in as an import, having never played in the UK junior system.
Further adventures in the North Vancouver midget leagues and other places in Canada followed, but when he returned to Australia, he made his name there instead.
It’s usually at this time of the year, we see British players or imported foreign nationals who have played in the Elite League make their way over to take part to keep them going over the summer.
In fact, Petrie had Fife Flyers pair Paul and Tim Crowder playing for his side last summer as well as Dylan Quaile, who also turned out for Fife and won the AIHL’s Most Valuable Player award. This year, Ice Dogs had signed former Glasgow Clan netminder Joel Rumpel.
Petrie spoke of what he gets from Elite League players when they come to Sydney and revealed what he would normally have being doing this week if that opening game with Canberra was going ahead.
He said: “I’m a professional recruiter and whenever we bring guys over from the UK, as we’ve seen in years gone by, they have to have the right character. I like to get guys that are enthusiastic. Not so much for playing or looking to enjoy a new life experience in Australia.
“Sydney has so much to offer and we make a point of housing guys within walking distance of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
“We want to make sure their experience is incredible and anyone I bring in, I want them to contribute in all manner of ways. Not just as players, but mentors to young kids. Similar to the British league, from what I gather talking to guys who come over from there.
“At this point, everyone would have been in the country and the systems would have been bettered down by now, but we would have had three or four full team practices by now leading into the opening weekend.
“Anticipation would have been high and the couple of weeks before that first game, there would be high levels of excitement for anyone playing or coaching.
“By now we would just be putting the finishing touches to things in the build up to the first game and making sure everyone had everything they needed, plus managing any niggling injuries there may have been.
“It’s gut wrenching for the playing group because some of our guys had gone to extra lengths and started training early, working with professional trainers and their commitment level was on the next level – much more than I’d seen before.
“I was really excited to put our best foot forward with this group. We stay in touch on social media, but the guys are having to take their fitness on themselves as individuals. The gyms and everything are shut and there’s no group sessions of course.”
In general terms, it’s been quite a year for the people of Australia, who suffered bushfires that devastated large parts of the country, caused by one of the hottest summers on record.
Following that, the rain came and there was severe flooding before the impact of the coronavirus hit, as it has done all over the world.
The ice hockey community did their bit to help raise funds and that was certainly the case in Sydney where Ice Dogs side took on AIHL rivals Sydney Bears in February.
For Petrie, he was proud of a night when the ice hockey fans came out and played their part to help in the relief effort.
He added: “Australia was devastated by the bushfires, as everyone knows, earlier this year and we were well on the way to recovering from that.
“We did our part in the hockey community and we held a game between ourselves and Sydney Bears, which raised $26,000 for the Red Cross and for the bushfire relief.
“The two teams in Melbourne did the same thing and raise $40,000 or so as they did in Adelaide. But we were well and truly underway in recovering from that.
“After the fires, we had severe flooding and there was a joke in the area where I live, in the north part of Sydney that we didn’t know if we were burning or drowning.
“We get clear of that and have two or three weeks of solid practice before everything shuts down again, this time because of the coronavirus situation. It’s been an interesting time.
“The charity game was awesome and it’s my first year as governor of the club, as well as being the head coach, so I had the pleasure of being on the managerial side, working with the Sydney Bears and putting it together.
“The two teams had a different approach and we included a couple of sponsors who could play a bit and I pulled some guys out of retirement to take part as well, so it was a fun approach.
“We had around 1,200 for it, which was amazing and it was one hell of a collaboration from both sides for what was a great night for everyone involved.”
So, in the meantime, it’s a case of sitting tight and waiting for the worst of the virus to move on as Petrie spoke of the similarities between life in Australia and the UK.
And he hopes that when ice hockey does return, whether that’s later this year or even next year, the hunger for it will mean a boost in attendances and interest.
Petrie said: “I think the situation here with the coronavirus is much the same as it is with lots of places in the western world. The major cities aren’t quite in lockdown, in the very true sense.
“Basically, you can only go out in groups of two for anything that’s deemed to be essential, to get groceries in, get exercise and that kind of thing.
“The majority of us are working from home and still getting our heads around the remote aspects of delivering in our roles and keep our companies viable. It’s interesting.
“I would hope socially, the fans and people who support the game will be hungry for it, by the time it returns.
“I suppose they’ll be hungry for everything I guess, but it could be the most attended season we’ve ever had. It could be pie in the sky stuff, but it’s what I hope for.”