Thursday, April 21, 2016 - Submitted by Peter Lambert
The Proski Newcastle North Stars will name a new captain for 2016 following Robert Starke's decision to retire from the Australian Ice Hockey League.
The 39 year old from Montreal, Quebec, amassed a mountain of achievements during his career in Australia.
This included four Goodall Cups, captaining the national and North Stars teams, equalling Ray Sheffield’s record of 21 AIHL finals games, and, in his second-last game, reaching 300 points in the league’s regular season.
Starke holds many of the North Stars’ career records including most assists, most points, and the only person to win all of the team’s major awards, starting with the first awarding of the Most Valuable Player award in 2004.
Starke met his now wife Nicole on his first night out in Newcastle with teammates (including his younger brother Sean), and subsequently settled in Newcastle and became an Australian citizen.
Sean was equal top scorer for the AIHL in 2004.
He was invited along with Robert to Australia by former coaching director Rob Barnes.
“I was a semi-retired professional ice hockey player and in my first year of law school at the University of Montreal," Starke said.
"I was playing for the Verdun Dragons of the Quebec Senior League getting paid per game played and per fight.
“I was looking for an adventure and planning to travel. A former teammate by the name of Dejan Kostic suggested that I contact Rob Barnes about the possibility of playing ice hockey in Australia.
"My brother Sean was playing professionally in Germany in 2004 and when the North Stars indicated that they were in need of an import forward. I managed to convince him to join me at the North Stars.
"Our youngest brother Cliff was also an excellent ice hockey player but had study and work commitments and was unable to join us. Perhaps three Starkes in town would have been too much for Newcastle to handle.”
Starke’s two boys, Patrick, 7, and Benjamin, 5, are the centre of his attention now along with his career as a lawyer with North Stars sponsor Baker Love Lawyers.
Starke played 12 seasons with the North Stars, some in the midst of adversity as he worked hard to get his law degree career started, then commuting from Sydney to play, and most significantly, as youngest son Benjamin fought a brave battle against childhood cancer.
“We lived in Sydney for two years from 2008 to 2010," Starke said. "Our first son Patrick was born in Sydney. Whilst living in Sydney, I was tempted to play for one of the Sydney teams but with Nicole's support I instead endured the travel commitments and continued to play for the North Stars. On reflection, I would not have had it any other way.
“In 2013, our son Benjamin was diagnosed with bilateral Wilms tumour which is a form of kidney cancer. I contemplated not playing and again with Nicole's support I decided to continue on a part time basis.
"The North Stars family was certainly supportive during this difficult time. Fortunately, after undergoing chemotherapy and multiple surgeries Benjamin is doing very well and currently in remission - and hopefully the worst is behind us.
“Aside from being home with my family, being on the ice is my favourite place to be which is the reason why I continued to play ice hockey during these challenging times.”
Starke’s commitments have extended to the bench.
He has been a coach of the youngest North Stars (from 4 to 10 year olds) through to the Australian Junior Men’s team in 2007.
In 2009, Starke captained the Australian men’s team in Lithuania in Division 1 of the IIHF World Championships.
“I enjoy giving back to the game that has treated me so well over the years," Starke said.
"I enjoy coaching and mentoring at all levels and passing on the hockey knowledge that I have acquired over the years as a player, coach and student of the game.
“It has been a privilege to play and captain the North Stars. I have enjoyed the ride and cherished every moment of my playing career.
"People that know me well are aware that I am very competitive, play with an edge and play to win so the memories of being part of championship teams in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2015 will always hold a special place in my heart.
“I was given the opportunity to extend my playing career by 12 years by playing for the North Stars whilst also pursuing my career off the ice as a lawyer.”
Despite his serious demeanour and career focus, those lucky enough to know the real Starke know that he loves to get crazy and have some fun as much as any hockey player.
His “wet down” breakdancing move and “doggy bowl” drinking game are just a few of the fun moments that bubble up amongst locker room chatter.
“I think that it is important to enjoy yourself both on and off the ice," Starke said.
"There is no doubt that I enjoy break dancing, wet downs, ball chugs and doggy bowl and I trust that the traditions will continue in some way or form - for better or worse.”
Starke retires as a legend of the Newcastle North Stars and among the greatest to have played in the AIHL.
Always a leader and with the future in mind, Starke provided us with a few parting words: “My skates have been my vehicle in life and they have enabled me to travel the world, enjoy tremendous experiences and meet many fantastic people.
"Thank you to my family, friends, team owners, general managers, coaches, team staff members, teammates, opponents, sponsors and of course the fans for all the memories.
"I finish my playing career with a heavy heart but it's time.
"I feel fortunate that I am able to retire from the North Stars on my own terms and with the perfect ending.
"I am a Montreal Canadiens fan and my late father's favorite player was the late Jean Beliveau (#4). Interesting enough, Jean Beliveau retired as the captain of the Canadiens at the age of 39 and his final game was a 3-2 Stanley Cup win.
“Well, I am no Jean Beliveau but we retired at the same age and my final game was a 3-2 Goodall Cup win - which is rather amazing.
"The Goodall Cup is back in Newcastle and I hope that the post Starke era starts the same way at the post Sheffield era with another Goodall Cup for the North Stars in 2016."