NHL stars to descend on Docklands in nation-first
Some of the world’s best ice hockey players will descend on Docklands in September, using the O’Brien Icehouse as a training base before two huge games at Rod Laver Arena.
In April the National Hockey League (NHL) announced that the Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings would travel Down Under — the first time the league has ventured to the Southern Hemisphere — for two pre-season games on September 23 and 24.
Days prior to the expected sell-out games, on September 19 and 20, the teams will practice at the O’Brien Icehouse in a huge coup for local hockey fans.
“We’re very excited about it — it’s fantastic,” O’Brien Icehouse executive director Athol Hodgetts said.
“We’re delighted that the public of Melbourne and other states will be able to see, for the first time, the best standard of ice hockey in the world. We believe it’ll attract people to the game both as spectators and participants. We’re cooperating 100 per cent with the promoters and the NHL, and we think it’s a great thing for ice hockey in Australia.”
Details around the training days were yet to be confirmed at the time of publication, including whether locals would be able to watch at the 1000-seat Henke Rink.
The Icehouse, which opened in 2010, is home to two teams in the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League: the Melbourne Mustangs and Melbourne Ice.
Mustangs captain Brendan McDowell said the announcement was a significant step forward for the game both locally and throughout Australia.
“It’s almost like a dream come true,” he told Docklands News.
I’ve been playing and watching ice hockey for most of my life, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see three NHL games in Canada, but to have the game come to us here in Melbourne is just awesome.
Mr McDowell, who has represented Australia in ice hockey, said the sport had a small but highly engaged local following, and the announcement was a nice reward for those involved.
“The hockey community in Melbourne is super excited. Ice hockey is no doubt a small sport here, but we’ve been playing nationally for more than 100 years. That history is quite deep and rich, something most people in Melbourne are unaware of.”
According to the NHL, the decision to host pre-season games in Melbourne — the furthest it has ventured and “one of the most difficult projects the league has pulled off logistically”— was the culmination of almost 10 years of discussion and planning.
Ice hockey continues to grow in Australia and the NHL revealed it ranked fifth among countries overseas in purchasing gear from Fanatics International since 2015, with Victoria ranking first among the states.
Outside of Canada and the United States, Australia accounted for the seventh-most visits to NHL digital platforms in 2022.
“We don’t jump into any of this stuff without doing a fair amount of research and making sure that this makes sense,” NHL senior executive vice president of international strategy David Proper said.
“Everything that we’re seeing is that this a good market for us and a market that is just going to be a lot of fun for the NHL and its players and hopefully for the fan base in Australia.”
Proper said the league had no desire to make the event a simple one-off.
“The intention would not be to come to Australia, play and never come back. The intention is to make this a recurring set of games and help continue to grow hockey in the market,” he said. “The truth of the matter is, if it weren’t so far away, it’s a complete layup. Nobody would be questioning why you’d go there. But it’s the logistics hurdle that makes everybody question it.” •
Caption: NHL teams the Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings will practice in Docklands for two days ahead of pre-season clashes at Rod Laver Arena in September.