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Chowder Down Under: Introducing The Newcastle North Stars

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We've already met the Melbourne Mustangs. Now, on the eve of the season, it's time to meet the second AIHL team Chowder will be following this season - the Newcastle North Stars.

Newcastle, New South Wales.

A harbor city whose site was first occupied by the Awabakal and Worimi Aboriginal people before being discovered by Europeans in 1797 (by accident, as Captain John Shortland, its discoverer, was chasing escaped convicts when he made his way up the Hunter River), it sits on the coast of New South Wales on Australia's east side, around a hundred miles north-east of Sydney on the mouth of the Hunter River.

Newcastle grew up around coal-mining in the 19th century, and was widely known as a "hellhole" and "convict city" and served as a penal colony for the British until 1823. It and many towns around it show the strong influence of the Northern English convicts who were transported there under British penal law, with many towns in the area sharing names with the region around Newcastle in England. It is home to the largest coal port in the world.

After being reclassified as a civilian settlement, Newcastle continued to be known as a town of heavy industry (coal, copper and steel), as well as being home to the largest soap factory in the Southern Hemisphere.

A period of economic downturn hammered the city in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but it's currently experiencing a rebound, although the city, which contains just over 300,000 inhabitants when combined with Lake MacQuarie, is growing again.

You wouldn't believe it's a former penal colony/heavy industry town to look at, though. Here's a panorama of central Newcastle.

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Music fans know it as the home of Australia's answer to Nirvana, Silverchair, and sports fans know it as home to the Newcastle Knights rugby league team. Sports-wise, Newcastle suffers in the state-centric structure of Australian sport by being considered "second-fiddle" to Sydney as a sports city in New South Wales, with all the state teams based in the bigger city.

Except in ice hockey. Which brings us to the Newcastle North Stars. Here's a guide to SCoC's second team (In case you missed it, by the way, we've already introduced the Melbourne Mustangs here):

HISTORY

The North Stars are one of the oldest teams in Australia-formed in 1977 as the Newcastle Red Wings, before going into liquidation while leading the Superleague in 1981. The current iteration of the North Stars is one of the earliest members of the modern AIHL, being founded in 2001. They have five Goodall Cups (2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2015)  They also hold the record for the biggest ever win in AIHL history, beating Canberra Knights (now CBR Brave) 21-2 in 2006. Their main rivalries are considered to be with the Sydney Ice Dogs and the Adelaide Avalanche.

Their home is the modest, but welcoming Hunter Ice Skating Stadium in Lake Macquarie, with a capacity of a few hundred. Here it is, in all its understated glory:

So-that's a brief intro to the team history. But what about the 2016 team?

The 2016 North Stars are entering a new era - their captain and defenseman Robert Starke, who has led the team since 2004, retired on the eve of the season after playing 12 seasons, 21 finals, 300 points and winning four Goodall Cups. To call him an AIHL legend would probably be one of the rare cases of the word "legend" being used as an understatement. Here's the new-look Stars (remember, AIHL teams are allowed 6 non-Australian players on their roster and can dress four for any one game. They're listed in bold)

GOALTENDERS

#30 Dayne Davies, #31 Harley Quinton-Jones, #33 Josh Broekman

The all-Aussie (Davies, though born in Canada, has Australia citizenship and is thus considered a local under import rules) netminding trio is exactly the same as last year for the North Stars. Davies, from Tilbury, ONT, will likely play the vast majority of games-he led the league in GAA last year and was only beaten in SV% by Canberra's Josh Unice. The 225lb goalie is a big NM who will provide a very solid obstacle to AIHL forwards - he's backed up by two young Aussies in Broekman and Quinton-Jones, with Broekman likely to see more games dressed.

DEFENSE

#3 Mat Lindsay, #5 John Kennedy, #7 Stuart Cole-Clark, #20 Robert Malloy, #25 David Ferrari, #77 Brandon Greenside

Brandon Greenside is the standout offensive defenseman in this group - the SPHL Defenseman of the Year with Peoria this season will join the North Stars after his championship run with the Rivermen finishes after scoring 37 points in 56 games this season. Behind him, John Kennedy Jr, who captained RPI during his NCAA career, is another very strong cog in a group that also contains two Aussie internationals in Lindsay and Malloy. This is a very solid unit indeed, strong both going forward and protecting its own net. Kennedy and Greenside will be the players to watch.

FORWARDS

#8 Hamish Powell, #10 Josh Harris, #12 Scott Swiston, #15 Beau Taylor, #21 Connor McLaughlin, #23 Matt Wetini, #42 Brian Bales, #58 Hayden Sheard, #71 Shane Southwood, #91 Patrick Nadin.

There are goals everywhere in the North Stars lineup, even with the loss of the AIHL's all time single-season scoring leader Geordie Wudrick to the CBR Brave this season. The line of Scott Swiston, Beau Taylor and Connor McLaughlin was PROLIFIC in the CCAA for Univ. Alberta-Augustana this winter, scoring 36 goals in 28 games between them (with McLaughlin getting 20 of them). Swiston and Taylor scored 25 goals in 15 games between them last AIHL season alone in a perfect demonstration of Canadian/Australian harmony, and McLaughlin will only add to that potency. Behind them, new arrival and team-mate of Brandon Greenside Josh Harris will work with dual-national Alaskan/Australian Brian Bales and Patrick Nadin as a strong second line, with Wetini, Powell, Sheard and Southwood providing local reinforcement.

The main question this off-season was how Newcastle would replace the goals of Geordie Wudrick, and they've done that with a balanced scoring group with proven chemistry. These forwards are a good group indeed.

The North Stars are once again coached by Andrew Petrie, who led them to the Goodall Cup in his first season last year, and they look in a strong position to repeat as Goodall Cup Champions - certainly, they've built a very strong AIHL roster in a fast-improving league.

Now, though, it's time for the real action to start...and with Greenside still in action in North America they may have to adapt to early season without one of their star imports. It'll be interesting to see how they begin the season after a slightly nervy Wilson Cup campaign which saw them fail to make the final.

The North Stars are one of the easiest teams in the AIHL follow - they broadcast as many of their games as they can free on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/NorthStarsOfficial - including live streams of their home games. Highlights and full games are up often the same day...which means you've got no excuse for not at least taking a look at them this year.

Their tagline this year is "WE ARE NEWCASTLE".

Well, WE are Boston. But this summer, as well as Melbourne, the Chowder staff are an outpost of North Stars Nation.

The quest for a sixth Goodall Cup has begun in New South Wales.

Let's go, Stars.