Infiltrating Blue Tongue country

It’s winter on the Gold Coast in Queensland, which means it’s sunny and 26 degrees. I’m freezing (which could be a virus I’m battling), wearing a Red Wings baseball cap, a jumper and a scarf, watching my breath fog in front of my face. In front of me, a diesel-powered Zamboni is chugging along an ice rink in what can only be described as an old shed.

I’m at Iceland, in the suburb of Bundall. Bundall is not close to “The Worlds” to the north or

The Iceland rink, in all its glory.

Coolangatta airport to the south, which basically means it’s part of the endless industrial park hinterland that makes up any part of the Gold Coast that hasn’t been subdivided into tiny housing blocks.

Having skated at Iceland, Hotcakes Gillespie, the celebrated northern skater, tells me to watch for the arch across the road on approach. It turns out the piping, like some plumbing experiment gone wrong, is celebrating the Gold Coast Turf Club, which is nearby, but, hey, it’s a landmark among the factories and we sail under the arch, turn left and find ourselves at the home rink of the Gold Coast Blue Tongues ice hockey team.

I don’t want to get all elitist about this place. I had always kind of known that the Melbourne

The view from my seat: Ice players stand in front of the crowd between shifts.

Icehouse, where I train, is Australia’s official winter Olympic training facility and as such is pretty schmick. I guess what I hadn’t taken into account is life away from the Icehouse.

In fact, far from being all sniffy about the Gold Coast Iceland, I’m in awe of the Blue Tongues players. To train and play at such a dilapidated, sub-standard rink and then duke it out with the better resourced teams, like Melbourne Ice, is nothing short of heroic.

A photo on the Melbourne Ice facebook page from Sunday showed the showers at Iceland … several plastic water drums on top of a shed, with hoses to let the water fall. When we arrived, Jason Baclig and other members of the Ice were warming up in the carpark. The actual rink looked wet, not frozen, and instead of that pleasing, sharp scrapped-ice sound of a good hockey stop, when players changed direction there was a kind of slushy sound. I have never seen so many players in an AIHL game lose their footing, sliding around on watery ice. And the rink looked smaller than the Heinke Rink where we train, and where Melbourne Ice plays its home games. I’m not sure if it was an optical illusion or not. I suspect this rink was NHL sized, not Olympic sized.

Watching all this was about 150-200 fans, who had paid ten bucks each at the door. Five or six people were wearing Gold Coast jerseys, which are based on the Canucks’ colour scheme. Otherwise the major fundraising initiative was a sausage sizzle out the front, cooked by parents of Blue Tongue players.

Two or three rows of seats lined one wall, meaning even such a small crowd was capacity. Amazingly, there was no glass around the rink, meaning netting was all that protected spectators from the flying puck, and also meant any player getting “boarded” was pushed into a waist-high wall, not safer glass.

The scoreboard was for “Visitors” v “Grizzlies” (much better name than the Blue Tongues, btw, Coasters). There were no benches for the teams, or penalty boxes. That swarthy sex symbol of the Ice, Jacques Perreault, got a penalty and had to stand with the rest of the team for two minutes, seething quietly.

Ice goalie Stu Denman didn't bother trying to go outside to the change room during intervals.

Between shifts, Melbourne Ice players stood in front of us, local fans wandering past them with sausages in bread, as the Ice players discussed tactics and were baited by the crowd. After one dodgy penalty, an old dude standing next to us muttered in a super-satisfied growl under his breath: “Welcome to the Gold Coast.” By the game’s end, when the Blue Tongues sunk an empty netter to take a 5-3 lead, Ice captain Vinnie Hughes was leaning on the wall, having verbal stoushes with the crowd, sitting a whole metre away.

“Man, tomorrow’s game is going to have an edge,” Hotcakes Gillespie observed, as Joey Hughes was led out of a fight with three seconds to go on the clock. And she was right … according to Twitter, the refs tried to give Army a five minute penalty for fighting the next day, when Melbourne claimed he wasn’t even on the ice at the time, Lliam got thrown out of the game, and Ice eventually won 5-3 after Jason Baclig (who else?) chipped into the empty net to split the weekend’s scorelines.

So this is AIHL life away from the palatial Icehouse? I felt genuinely concerned for the Melbourne Ice and Blue Tongue players, trying to play at the professional level they do on such a dodgy rink (a game was cancelled recently because the Iceland ice was deemed dangerous) EDIT: a broken thermostat made the ice too cold, according to a local, replying to this post (see below).

But I also felt amazed that the Gold Coast team could be at such a decent standard, given their home. And I felt admiration for the bloke who clearly runs everything to keep Iceland going, driving the Zamboni, putting up the netting, checking the bar is ticking over, renting skates on weekdays and ensuring the shipping container that doubles as team changing rooms is clean and tidy for visiting sides. All while 99 per cent of the local population are at the beach down the road.

Aduba, Tommy Powell and Lliam Webster watch the game; a long way from the AHL.

At one stage, I was watching Melbourne’s star import Obi Aduba clamber over the sponsor-free wall to stand on wet carpet with only a net separating him from the fans, dodgy under-wattage lighting making the whole scene gloomy. When the AIHL finals finish, Aduba is heading back to America to play for the Quad City Mallards, in Illinois, (This is him dropping the gloves for Quad City before he joined the Ice) and will try out with Springfield, in the AHL – one level below NHL. What must he have made of this Gold Coast scene? It would be like an ATP tennis player competing at antbed tennis courts in central Queensland, local farmers manning the lines.

I guess, like so much else in hockey, he’s in it for the adventure. Iceland provided that.

Comments

  1. Please get your facts straight. The recent game vs the Ice Dogs was NOT canceled due to substandard and dangerous rink, it was cancelled due to a thermostat breaking overnight, which caused the ice temp. to get too cold which cracked the ice. It had absolutely nothing to do with it being substandard.

    Also a capacity crowd is closer to 300, which we easily had on Sunday.

    Armstrong got ejected because he throw an elbow to the side of Matt Amado’s head. The refs called it high sticking after deliberating and gave him a game misconduct. Liam, who was less than professional himself most the game suckerpunched Dave Upton in the head after a hit, which is what got those 2 ejected from the game.

    The reffing was absolutely atrocious, but it was equally bad to both teams.

    For the record, we don’t like our home rink either, but it’s all we have until the team choose to move the club back north or build a rink. Pointing out how bad it is has been done by countless Ice fans already, there’s little need to bring it up once again.

    • Thanks for the email, Lizard man.
      As I kind of went out of my way to say, I’m not trying to bag the Blue Tongues … I’m in awe that the team is so good given that facility. And I appreciate how hard it must be to keep a rink going on the Gold Coast.
      I can’t comment on the penalties to Armstrong and Webster as I wasn’t at Sunday’s game, but they are very clean-living guys and I can’t imagine either of them doing anything like that.

    • “Please get your facts straight. The recent game vs the Ice Dogs was NOT canceled due to substandard and dangerous rink, it was cancelled due to a thermostat breaking overnight, which caused the ice temp. to get too cold which cracked the ice. It had absolutely nothing to do with it being substandard.”

      Dear Mr. Lizardman (or can I be informal and call you The?)

      I would’ve thought that a rink with a substantial cracking in the ice could & should be labelled as substandard and the fact that an AIHL game was cancelled as a result of substandard ice would indicate yes it probably could be leveled dangerous.

      I hereby challenge you definition of “facts”. Though if Obi does make it to the American Hockey League he’ll have a story to tell on US TV!

      Regards

      Pickman

      • Here’s where you have it wrong.

        The ICE was substandard because of the crack which was caused by a broken thermostat.

        The crack was not caused by a substandard rink, nor did the rink cause the thermostat to break. Thermostats break, it happens, and it has nothing to do with the rink or the quality of the facility.

        The crack made the surface dangerous and therefore unplayable, but again, it was caused by a broken thermostat not the “rink”.

        The original post made it sound as though the game was canceled due to the rink being substandard. This was NOT the case.

  2. Nadine Duncan says:

    so…how do we get a better ice rink ??? What’s the process and how do we get started on it !!

  3. Iceinator says:

    The game was cancelled due to “unplayable surface” (read: substandard and dangerous ice – broken thermostat or otherwise).

    I thought this was a well-written and balanced post. Some of the nuances such as the mention of things like the sponsor-free boards really made me as a reader think further about not only the state of the rink, but how remarkable it is that the BT’s are competitive out of it.

    The penalty to Armstrong sure looked like it hurt, but to anyone watching it also looked unintentional. We could be one-eyed and say it was just hockey, but fair enough the guy was injured, and he took his medicine. Was it right for a member of the BT’s team staff to subsequently threaten violence against Armstrong? I doubt it. He probably shouldn’t use Armstrong’s lack of hair as a vector of attack given his own lack of mop up top.

    As for Webster being unprofessional himself during the game, can a BT’s fan really argue professionalism when you’re playing in a rink like that? It’s easy to sit a row behind the guy and call him out in the middle of the game and then claim he’s unprofessional, but really – to say Webster was more unprofessional than anything else given the environment is a stretch.

    The fact is, the Tongues were undisciplined, and the Ice played a much better game on Sunday, and it’s (probably) cost you a shot at the play-offs. Complain all you like, but that’s the bottom line.

    • Thanks, Icenator

    • I’m not complaining about the result. As per my own blog post today, the stupid play by Matt Amado and pathetic display of sportsmanship by Alex Boyd late in the first period cost us the game.

      My issue, and many of us up here when when people like you make comments like this: “can a BT’s fan really argue professionalism when you’re playing in a rink like that”. What rink we play in has NOTHING to do with being professional. Are you saying the Ice were a bunch of rag-tag unprofessionals all those years they play out of Oakleigh? What about the Knights, are they also incapable of being professional because they play out of a less than stellar rink? Are you seriously saying that because we don’t have a world class stadium like the Ice do that we are incapable of being professional? It is these types of comments, and many made by people at the games up here that make us angry.

      For the record, congratulations on the win, your team did play the better game on the day and the result showed that. I’m going to go be upset at Amado/Boyd now for being idiots.

      • Iceinator says:

        What I’m saying is I don’t miss the irony of talking about professionalism of a player when you’ve got a home team supporter sitting in the row behind said player directly antagonising him and then worrying about the reaction. I don’t miss the irony of talking about professionalism when the players are expected to head out into the public carpark to shower under buckets with hoses coming out of them.

        What I’m saying, I guess, is that trying to single out a player as being unprofessional whilst overlooking everything else going on would be a farce. It’s like fining someone fleeing a bushfire for speeding.

        I read your blog, and understand your pain. I actually wanted to see the BT’s get a run in the finals this year, and not for selfish reasons. The one thing I learned up on the Gold Coast (maybe just the selection I encountered) is that Blue Tongues fans are some of the most hyper-sensitive I’ve encountered. Fair enough the rink isn’t something I’d be proud of, but the Melbourne fans aren’t holding you responsible for it. On the contrary, they’re actually congratulating you on putting up a good show under trying circumstances. I was one of the ones advocating the league not awarding the points to the Ice Dogs only a couple of weeks back. You have allies, at least within the Melbourne Ice supporter base. Quit trying to fight a battle to defend a rink that isn’t yours. We think you’re a better team than the rink would suggest, and I’d rather be told that than be told that told I support a crap team in great facilities any day.

      • “What I’m saying is I don’t miss the irony of talking about professionalism of a player when you’ve got a home team supporter sitting in the row behind said player directly antagonising him and then worrying about the reaction.”

        Again, get your facts straight. The Blue Tongues supporter in question commented on a player on the Ice. Webster turned and initiate the contact with the crowd, not only swearing at the fan, but directly insulting his weight. The fan in question only responded to what Webster started. I was a bit surprised, as always figured Webster to be one of the players who would not do that, but it was an intense game, so who knows.

        We are sensitive about our team and our rink. The team may not own the rink, but it’s where our boys play. To us, it’s our home, whether we think it’s a good rink or not. Every year we have people travel to our home and insult our players, insult our rink and up until this year, even go as far as try and dictate where home and visiting fans should sit. This is OUR rink, so you’ll forgive us for being a little senstive. We may not like the rink, but we WILL defend it when others come here and make those types of comments.

        For the record, we are ALL hoping the league steps in and forces the team to find a new rink next season, which could mean playing out of one of the MUCh better Brisbane rinks.

  4. Theresa Neate says:

    Hats off to the BTs for playing great hockey in the face of such challenges, to the Iceland and BTs management for trying to make a go of it under immensely trying circumstances, to my beloved Melbourne Ice for being gracious about any real or imagined advantages, and to Nicko for an insightful blog that got us all thinking.

  5. By the way, haven’t mentioned this yet, but love your blog 🙂

    • Cheers, Lizardman. I had a kick around yours too, and loved it too. Us hockey types need to stick together, this far away from the northern hemisphere action.

      • Absolutely mate, we’re all here for hockey and at the end of the day team loyalties aside, we’re all mad hockey fans. It’s our love for the sport that makes us so insanely passionate about our teams.

  6. Jess Hough says:

    Love the Blog and so glad to see such large numbers interested in ice hockey 😀

  7. Dj ferris says:

    Love the blog. Well said!

Trackbacks

  1. […] It was in August last year that that I wrote what turned out to be a contentious blog about the state of the Blue Tongues’ rink at the Gold Coast, after attending a game there to watch the Melbourne Ice. Blue Tongues fans went […]

  2. […] extreme is the Bundall Iceland on the Gold Coast, a much smaller arena. Its stands are not grand. As blogger Nick Place noted, it is a credit to the Blue Tongues that they are a competitive unit despite operating out of such […]

  3. […] Does Hockey’s post about the Bundall rink is from last year, but worth a re-read in light of what happened last […]

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