The Perth Inferno may be a new addition to the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL), but the team and it’s coaching staff are confident that they will be able to compete in Australia’s top league for women.
“I’m hoping, just in the first year alone, [that] we can challenge, we can make the playoffs,” said Perth Inferno Head Coach Paul Graham. “From our first game I want it to be that people don’t think that we’re just making up the numbers, [but] that we’ve got the talent there to be able to compete every week.
All the other teams have all been together for so long that they’re kind of five to six years ahead of us in terms of developing the local players, but that being said, some of the talent that we have here is very much on par with what’s over there.”
The Perth Inferno had to compete in the Australian Tier 2 Women’s Hockey League (A2WIHL) for two seasons in order to prove that Perth’s players have the skill level needed in order to compete in the AWIHL. Perth won the A2WIHL in both seasons, and afterwards was approved entry into the AWIHL. Perth’s men’s team, the Perth Thunder, went through a similar process to join the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) in 2012.
As for Perth’s name and logo, there were early talks about possibly partnering with the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno. While that has not panned out for the time being, Perth did get permission from the Calgary Inferno to use and slightly change their branding for their own use.
During the 2017-18 season, the Perth Inferno played two exhibition games against the AWIHL’s Sydney Sirens, losing both games 8-4 and 8-1. Sydney has been a consistently successful team in the AWIHL, and despite the scores, Graham was still pleased with the results, especially considering that Perth iced a more inexperienced team with no imports.
The Inferno will consist mostly of Australian players, with just two import spots available, one of which has already been filled by American Elizabeth Scala. Scala spent last season with ESC Planegg in Germany’s Frauen-Bundesliga and will be making the move to Australia to compete with Perth in the 2018-19 season. The Inferno will also be gaining two experienced goaltenders in Keesha Atkins, who spent last season with Adelaide, and Ella Licari, who spent last season with Sydney.
In addition to the team’s core group of players, the Inferno will have a development group, which will get practice time in Perth and occasionally get to join the team for games to experience competing at Australia’s highest level.
“We’ve got the core 15 who would be playing every week, but we want to kind of put an academy team together as well, so we’re not just developing the same 15 players,” said Graham. “We’ve just had tryouts and we’ve had nine year olds out there, so it would be really good to… be able to say to them, we’ll work with you now and we’ll develop you into a player for the future.”
With no local women’s league in Perth, many of the local players trying out for the team have been competing with and against men, and the Inferno will provide a much needed space for female players in Western Australia.
“In Perth we’re quite isolated from the rest of the country and we do have very talented players here,” said Graham. “[The reason behind adding a team in Perth] was giving them the opportunity and giving them a place to play.”
Perth is an approximately four hour flight from the other teams in the AWIHL (Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane), with a two hour time difference. In regards to travel logistics, the team will be flying out on Fridays and playing on Saturdays and Sundays before heading back to Perth. The Inferno will travel to each team once and each team will go to Perth once during the season, which runs from November to March.
The Inferno have held further tryouts in July and August as the team continues to take shape, and for Graham, these ice times have affirmed that the Perth Inferno have a promising future ahead of them. “Seeing everyone together at the tryouts, it was a bit of a ‘okay this is looking really good’ moment.”