THE Newcastle North Stars overcame a retirement bombshell from long-time captain Ray Sheffield and jet-lagged imports to show the Australia Ice Hockey League they are a force once again.
The North Stars opened their season with a 6-4 win on Saturday against Adelaide Adrenaline at the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium and then defeated Canberra Brave 7-3 on Sunday night.
One obvious omission was the 44-year-old Sheffield.
On Friday, the North Stars' most recognisable player made the shock decision to retire after consultation with new coach Andrew Petrie.
Petrie told Sheffield he would receive limited game time, so the defenceman opted to move into the assistant coaching role.
"He told me where I stood with the team," Sheffield said. "It was not as if he said, 'I couldn't play', I had the option to stay.
"I was just thought this was better."
The Canadian-born naturalised Australian moved to Newcastle in 2000.
From 2003, he has captained the North Stars and has played 292 games, the second highest in the AIHL.
Breaking the news to his teammates was the hardest part, so Sheffield opted to phone them all individually.
"It was going to be difficult," he said. "I didn't think I was going to be able to stand in front of the guys and tell them."
While the North Stars farewelled Sheffield over the weekend, their new import trio Geordie Wudrick, Jan Safar and Luke Moffatt made startling debuts.
Moffatt only arrived from the US on Saturday morning, but brushed off the jet lag to score doubles against Adelaide and Canberra.
"I picked him up at the airport and his eyes were hanging out of his head," Petrie said. "He was exhausted. He begged me to play and said, 'Put me in'."
Wudrick was the star against the Brave, banging in a hat-trick, which began with a bomb to the top of the net from 10 metres out in the first period.
At the first break, the North Stars led 4-1.
Newcastle's superior speed put Brave goaltender Stuart Woodall under constant pressure.
Shots on goal finished 44-24 in the North Stars' favour.
Goals to Safar and Wudrick pushed the margin to 6-1, before Canberra import Scott Pitt scored with 47 seconds remaining in the second period.
Canberra outscored the North Stars 2-1 in the final period.
Petrie was ecstatic to begin his North Stars tenure with two wins at the home rink, but acknowledged the defence needs improvement.
"I'm very impressed with how we are offensively, going forward," he said.
"We've got a lot of pace and tempo and we create a lot scoring opportunities.
"We're still sloppy defensively, particularly when under pressure, so that's what we'll be working on," he said.