As the AIHL hits the halfway point of the season and teams are currently being given out their mid-term report cards, the Newcastle North Stars are showing marked signs of improvement after a sluggish start to the academic hockey year.

The North Stars class of 2014 features a ton of local talent based on the notion of recruiting and developing not just good hockey players, but also good citizens. One of those who currently fits both roles is Mat Lindsay.

Lindsay has been a student of the game since childhood.

“I started playing Inline hockey at age 8 and represented Newcastle in many tournaments around NSW,” said Lindsay. “When the ice rink in Newcastle opened I started playing ice as I enjoyed it much more – so much faster. I then represented both Newcastle & NSW through Peewee, Bantam, Midget and East Coast. I played with the National Youth Team in Courchevel, France in 2008 and was lucky enough to be picked as the MVP for the team. In 2009 I was selected for the National Junior Team but the tournament in North Korea was cancelled. The next year I was selected again and helped Australia win gold in Turkey and picked up the MVP award again. The AIHL North Stars picked me to play in 2009 and I have been with the team ever since.”

Lindsay’s hockey pursuits have also seen him take his game on the road. Or on the plane, all the way to North America, to be exact.

“I had a 6 month break whilst I went and played NCAA Div III hockey in the States with Northland in Wisconsin. The experience was fantastic with the amount of hockey we got to play, but the town was very small and I decided to further my education back in Newcastle,” said Lindsay.

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Hockey is not the only thing Lindsay is a student of, as he is also currently studying occupational therapy as his day to day pursuit.

Although he classes himself as a student, Lindsay also graduates to the role of teacher part-time. Lindsay is one of the directors of the North Stars Academy, providing coaching to young, up and coming hockey players and allows him to give back to the sport he loves.

“I coach skills twice a week and visit schools once a week to encourage more people to play the sport. We also manage the local “Winter Comp” in Newcastle and have had great success turning development players into hockey players,” said Lindsay.

Lindsay also credits NSA’s grass roots focus and community interactions with spreading the hockey gospel around Newcastle.

“NSA is trying its best by focusing on development. We are visiting the schools around Newcastle and introducing them to the sport through off-ice activities and video presentations. Youth is the future of the sport so if we can get them interested then we could have a convert for life. They may even get their parents involved as we are always looking for extra help.”

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That sense of civic duty also carries over into his role on the North Stars.

“Playing in the AIHL allows me to play at the highest level in Australia and test my skills against some outstanding imports. Representing my city is a huge honour that so few get an opportunity to do, so I cherish that as well,” said Lindsay.

Although he has been a part of the North Stars since 2009, his views on the maturation of the league echo that of many of his AIHL classmates.

“The league has improved a lot since I started in 2009 with the media exposure it receives and the fan interest as well. The calibre has lifted too as there are so many good imports right across the league. Every single game now is a great battle and you have to be on your game every time,” said Lindsay.

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“The biggest challenge would be getting mainstream media and organizations to recognize the sport and give it the exposure it really deserves. Every time you bring a new person to the rink to watch a game they absolutely love it but we need hundreds to be converted not one or two at a time. It is a long term process that will then snowball to better facilities, change rooms, glass, etc.”

Lindsay’s perspective on easing the growing pains of the league is as local-centric as the Novocastrian himself.

“Getting paid to play would have to be Number 1! Seeing the AIHL expand to more teams and venues would be outstanding. I’d love to see the game expand to New Zealand and, obviously, back into Queensland,” said Lindsay. “The AIHL will improve if all teams focus on their imports imparting their knowledge onto the local talent as we don’t get the same opportunities as they do. A lot of the imports come from “hockey mad” countries so they have better understanding of the game, how it is played and the expectations on players to perform.”

Lindsay credits his family, friends, coaches and partner for his current success both in the classroom and on the ice, and developing his sense of “hockey citizenry”. And thanks to his father, former Newcastle North Star/Red Wing Steve Lindsay, that influence also means he is an avid Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

Well, we may or may not hold that last part against you, Mat.