Wednesday, August 28, 2019 - Submitted by Ellie-Marie Watts
Photos: PowerPlay Photographics
Hunter Ice Skating Stadium will be a hive of activity this weekend when hundreds of Australian Ice Hockey League fans make the journey to the Warners Bay rink for the 2019 season defining event – the finals series.
In anticipation of being the host venue for this year’s finals series, the Newcastle Northstars organisation has been hard at work the past two months in making improvements to the rink, consulting with experts to increase the stadium’s seating capacity, upgrading systems to ensure non-travelling fans can enjoy the games through the livestream and planning off-ice activities with the AIHL to create the ultimate game-day experience.
“We're quite excited with the changes being made around the rink and doing our part to promote ice hockey in Newcastle and around the country,” Northstars general manager Garry Dore said.
“We're proud of Australian ice hockey, we're proud of our rink, our team, our community, fans, sponsors.
“This is a situation where we really want to give them an opportunity to not just watch the finals in their home town, but really have a great game-day experience.
“We've been part of this league for so long [since 2002], been supporters of Australian ice hockey in every which way we can. We do feel like we deserve the opportunity to host the finals, and we know we can make it work for the league.”
The Northstars hosted AIHL Finals series in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Since 2013 the Finals have been held at O’Brien Icehouse in Melbourne, with Newcastle lifting the Goodall Cup at the Victorian venue in 2015 and 2016.
While acknowledging that HISS does not have the same capacity as the Icehouse, Dore said every effort has been made to fit more AIHL fans in HISS this finals series.
Temporary grandstands will be moved into HISS this weekend to increase the capacity from 750 to 900 people.
“We are looking, in the next few years, at some renovations inside the rink including a redesign of our grandstands and adding a mezzanine corporate area," Dore said.
“With the temporary grandstanding that we're bringing in for the Finals it will give us an opportunity to actually have a look and see how it could possibly pan out for us in the future.
“The league is growing and we need to get more numbers into the rink. We are looking at ways we can do that. Unfortunately, it doesn't get done in a day.
“I'm confident we will fit 900 people in the rink this weekend. With the additional grandstands we're fitting an extra 150 people in.
“We know we don't have the capacity of Melbourne but, regardless, it's going to be a pretty good show.”
Dore said securing the hosting role of the 2019 AIHL Finals provided an opportunity for him to carry out a number of improvements to the rink, including a face-lift.
The rink has been painted inside and out to “freshen it up” and an all new camera platform built to provide an even greater streaming view.
“There's been some stuff we've wanted to do around the rink for a while," Dore said.
“Securing the Finals gave us a bit of motivation to freshen up the look of the rink on the outside and inside.
“We’ve added a new platform for cameras and commentators, which isn't as intrusive to the benches as it previously was.”
In addition to this, Dore and the AIHL have worked to further improve the Finals weekend experience this year by creating a pre-game event at the rink.
From 2pm on Saturday, August 31 – before the first semi-final which will see defending champions CBR Brave take on Sydney Bears – there will be an outside bar and merchandise available in the rink's car park. Between semi-final one and two there will be a band, barbeque, burgers, kids activities and merchandise available set up in the car park.
Two temporary bars will be set up inside HISS across the weekend.
AIHL FINALS INFORMATION
When: Saturday, August 31 and Sunday, September 1
Where: Hunter Ice Skating Stadium, 230 Macquarie Rd, Warners Bay
Semi Final One: Saturday, August 31 – doors open 2.30pm, puck drops 3pm
Semi Final Two: Saturday, August 31 – doors open 6.30pm, puck drops 7pm
Grand Final: Sunday, September 1 – doors open 3pm, puck drops 3.30pm
Pre-game activity: There will be activities happening in the HISS car park from 2pm on Saturday, August 31. There will be an outside bar, barbeque, burgers, band, kids activities and merchandise available in the HISS carpark in between semi-final one and two on Saturday.
After-party: There will be the official after-party at Warners at the Bay from 6pm on Sunday, September 1 following the grand final game.
Food options: Stadium food options (including the chips and gravy) along with a barbeque and cold food options
Bars: There will be a bar outside of the stadium, along with two bar inside the venue.
Transport: There will be a shuttle bus to and from Warners at the Bay from 1pm on Saturday, going between the stadium and Warners at the Bay.
Parking: There is limited parking at the Stadium, we would advise parking in the surrounding streets or at Warners at the Bay (15 minute walk or shuttle bus).