The 2014 AIHL season is fast approaching, and teams are beginning to once again prepare for the year ahead. Hockey in Australia generally only has a cult following, and the league and teams are run by dedicated hardworking volunteers who have a passion for the sport.
As I grew up in Canada, hockey has always been a part of my culture as with most Canadians. It is a source of national pride as well as being a common passion we share. Most communities have an ice rink in very close proximity, and once winter sets in there are literally thousands of back yard rinks across the country. As well as any frozen body of water that is not snow covered.
However things in Australia are somewhat different. This is a sun-kissed country which lends itself to fair weather sports. AFL, NRL, Super 14, and Cricket will always be the dominate sports down under. Even soccer is still trying to gain a foothold around the country. Given all of the other choices, why would people decide to play or become involved with hockey? Well, if you are reading this you probably already know the answer to that question.
Wayne Hellyer is the GM of the Sydney Bears and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. From how he first became involved in hockey, to the duties of a GM in the AIHL, imports, and vision for the future of the Bears, Wayne has given some insight on what goes into running an AIHL club which I hope you will find interesting.
CS – How did you first get an interest in hockey? When did your involvement begin with the AIHL and Bears?
WH – I got an interest when my best friend and his brother from high school started to play.
I started in 1978 with the Lion’s Ice Hockey Club which was at Canterbury Ice Rink at the time. Between 1980-1982, the NSWIHA had decided to combine teams into one club per rink, as Macquarie and Blacktown Rinks were soon to open and preferred 1 club per rink. At that time, you had Prince Alfred Park (Central), Canterbury, Narrabeen, Newcastle and a small rink at Homebush. In 1982, I was leaving high school and applied for a job at Macquarie Ice Rink. I was involved from the start, when we had the first Macquarie Team.
CS – Can you explain to me what the duties of an AIHL General Manager are?
WH – I oversee everything, as not having a big committee, I need to make sure that things get done. We try and get the best possible Imports, liaising with Rink owners, ordering jerseys and equipment, making travel arrangements for the team. Meeting and maintaining sponsorship agreements and doing what ever is needed to make the experience for the players enjoyable.
CS – It appears that this will be Vlad Rubes last season playing for the Bears. How will the Bears try and deal with the loss? Do you expect Rubes to continue to be part of the club in some capacity? Any plans for a Vlad Rubes night when he does hang em up?
WH – Vlady has been a great asset to the club, and it will be up to him to decide when to stop playing at AIHL level. Vlady has for many years been our player/coach, but has accepted to coach only this year. He still has the skill and experience to play, but to coach a team in the AIHL, it require’s a full time bench coach. Player/coach is not something we prefer, but in recent years, it was hard to find a coach at this level to be on the Bench. We have Steve Austin and Paul Shumak on the bench assisting, but overall it needs a head coach to put it all together, as when playing, your not getting a clear picture as you would do if on the bench full time. We also have a resourceful and experience Jeff Todd, which will help contribute with the coaching staff.
CS – Imports- What’s the Bears plan regarding imports for next season? Do you expect Tomas Landa and Slavomir Boris to be returning? I have a basic understanding of how the import rules work with the league. Could you elaborate a little as to how player contracts work? Are any players provided with incentives or form of payment? How are imports attracted to the league/clubs?
WH – I can confirm both Landa and Boris will be apart of the team for 2014. Every year, Import’s are a unknown, as we go through many enquiries and emails to sort out who is able to play at this level, and who would fit the structure of the team. We do give preference for any returning Import to return for another season if the chance arises. We also use previous Import to scout for us and let us know if they have someone interested and can fill a position.
All teams are allowed 4 Imports to dress for any game, you can have 6 Imports on the roster, but at game time, only 4 can play. The reason to have up to 6, is for any injury or suspensions, which can happen. The Imports don’t get paid, as this is an non professional league, as no team would have the funds to cover all theirs costs. What we offer is assistance in finding accommodation and will cover the cost of player fees, registration, ITC Cards (International Transfer Cards) and will reimburse the cost of their plane ticket during the season. (half at start and half at completion of the season, so that they are here until the last game). The Contracts that all players sign, covers agreed terms and conditions of playing in the AIHL and for the club. This includes conduct on and off the ice.
CS – What is your vision for the club in the next few years, both on and off the ice?
WH – Our vision is to always be competitive and offer those who join the club something they can be proud of being apart of during playing or any association with the club.
Also to be in a better financial position, as the costs of running the team is not always covered by sponsorship and players still have to pay a team fee. I would like to eliminate this fee, but we need it in place as sponsorship, gate takings are not meeting our expenses. I am currently covering this shortfall, and hope that this is only a short term solution.
CS – Do you follow any hockey other than AIHL?
WH – Yes, I have a few favorite teams in the NHL, Calgary, Buffalo, NY Islanders and Detroit. My first training jersey was Buffalo, and Jacket Islanders. This was back in 1978, so only Calgary and Detroit became favorites later on.
CS- What’s your favorite hockey moment?
WH – I can say winning the Goodall Cup with the team and also back when Manager of the NSW team. Also had great moments when ANST Manager and being proud of the team when they played at every World Championships.
CS – Do you know who Don Cherry is? If yes, do you like him?
WH – I know Don, met him in Buffalo and seen him a few times while in Canada. I have several of his “Rock’Em Sock’Em” videos at home, and used to play them at Macquarie in the shopping centre to help promote our games. The league back then was called the NSW Superleague.
A big thank you to Wayne for being frank and open with his answers. Will see you all at the rink soon!