Newcastle’s national league football sides might have struggled in recent years, but the city’s ice hockey club can’t stop winning.
The North Stars claimed their second consecutive Australian Ice Hockey League championship on Sunday with a tense 2-1 victory over Canberra-based CBR Brave in Melbourne.
The most successful club in AIHL history took the lead through import Connor McLaughlin, the league’s leading scorer, before Josh Harris doubled the advantage in the second period.
CBR star Geordie Wudrick, the 2015 league MVP who left the North Stars on the eve of the season, scored in the final term, but Newcastle held on.
Coach Andrew Petrie was thrilled for his team, who had been written off in some quarters before the season.
“I’m really happy. The overriding emotion I’m experiencing is pride. I’m just incredibly proud of this group of players,” Petrie told the Herald on Sunday night.
Petrie publicly expressed his frustration at the start of the season after the Brave poached his star player, but he said that was not a motivation in the grand final.
“No, it wasn’t sweeter because of that. Winning this year was sweeter for the simple reason that everyone had written us off,” he said.
“Everyone thought that we weren’t going to be able to defend our title. That was actually the one thing that drove me all year.”
He praised his squad for adopting a team ethic during the season.
“I think to be a really successful team at a high level you have to have a bunch of guys who are prepared to put their own aspirations and ego aside to be a part of something a bit bigger than themselves. And that often means having guys playing roles that aren’t very glamorous and don’t get their name in the paper.
“I managed to convince a group of people to buy into a greater good this year. I’m much prouder of myself as a coach this year, and much, much prouder of the group of guys.”
North Stars general manager Garry Dore handed Petrie the coaching job two years ago with the task of claiming the club’s first championship since 2008.
He is now two-from-two, but Petrie also paid tribute to assistant coach Joey Theriault for his role in the North Stars’ success.
“He’s a massive part of what I do and a huge part of the organisation’s success. He went overseas for his sister’s wedding for about 10 days early in the season and all the wheels fell off.”
About 80 North Stars fans made the trip to Melbourne, and they watched their team work hard to shut down the Brave’s attacking threats.
“We probably had the greater of the possession. I wouldn’t say we dominated the game,” Petrie said.
“They’ve got a lot of dangerous firepower on that team, and we had to play a very strict style of play to contain that.
“Everyone did a really good job, but after that it’s a battle and the puck bounces all over the place and you’ve got to have a little bit of luck go your way.”
The North Stars had qualified for the decider by beating Perth Thunder 3-2 in an overtime thriller on Saturday night.
Newcastle have now won a record six AIHL titles since the league began in 2000. They last won back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006.