Melbourne Ice recruit Doug Wilson jnr. Newcastle North Stars have been just ahead of Melbourne Ice all season.
With only one weekend’s worth of regular season games to play, the 2012 AIHL finalists must decide whether to rest players, or treat their final games as full dress rehearsals for the knock-out finals a week later.
Last week’s fixtures confirmed that Adelaide would be the fourth team to compete for the Goodall Cup in Newcastle on the first weekend in September. After five months of struggle, and upsets galore, we have the same four finalists as a year ago – Newcastle North Stars, Melbourne Ice, Sydney Ice Dogs and Adelaide Adrenaline.
Melbourne Ice import Doug Wilson says his team doesn’t have the “luxury” of easing up in its final game against Gold Coast on Thursday night.
Ice, despite leading the Easton Conference comfortably for most of the season, has been dogged by injuries and suspensions from the outset, and it is yet to put its best team on the ice. Remarkably, that looks like occurring for the first time in their sudden death semi-final against the Sydney Ice Dogs on Saturday week, when Australian representative Todd Graham flies back from college in America to help Ice attempt to win their third successive championship.
Wilson says last Sunday’s 4-2 road win over Perth Thunder was Ice’s “first game as a full team and we played well”.
“We worked on some systems and the third line played unreal, it was by far their best game of the year. We finally got Joey Hughes back and I was healthy…”
Wilson had been troubled by a niggling groin complaint and Hughes, Ice’s 2011 finals MVP, had missed five games, including a clash with title favourites Newcastle, through suspension.
Coach Paul ‘Jaffa’ Watson implored his battle-weary champions to keep the momentum going against the Blue Tongues, and Wilson sees the game as an important step to keep up the team’s confidence going into the deciders.
Wilson says Watson has an ‘abnormal’ approach to Melbourne Ice’s threepeat challenge.
“Everyone is saying that this year the league overall probably has more talent than it ever has and teams have been loading up to try and get at us.
“So what was normal for us the last two seasons, that’s where everyone else already is, so for us to advance up and be the three time winner we have to go beyond what we’ve already been doing.
“So what Jaffa likes to say is we have to play “abnormal” because everyone has already come up to our normal standards.”
Ice will be glad that Perth fell just short of the finals in their incredible first AIHL season. He said they gave Ice as much trouble as any team in the competition. Thunder took Saturday’s game against Ice 3-1, but Adelaide’s two tight wins over a game Melbourne Mustangs outfit meant that Thunder could not bridge the gap to the second playoff position.
Perth has won 10 games, lost 10 and drawn two to be the fifth-best performed club so far in 2012. Coach Stan Scott says Ice is the best team Thunder has faced – “they have depth all around in every position” – but he is tipping Newcastle to win the title.
“They are playing at home and are scoring lots of goals at the moment the Ice are struggling on defence.”
Wilson recognises that Melbourne Ice’s team leaders have to stay out of the penalty box if the champions are to retain their title.
Conceding too many penalties has been the Achilles heel of Melbourne Ice all season, and the wildest game of their season came against Sydney Ice Dogs on the road. The Dogs are their semi-final opponent. If Ice can get through that challenge, they come up against Newcastle, the best-performed unit of the regular season, who defeated ice at home and away.
Canberra Knights coach Donald McDonald sums up why the North Stars will be so hard to beat:
“They can roll three solid lines… their defence was strong and they have a solid goalie. Their team play was probably the best of all the teams we played this year. Offensively they have good puck support and play well positionally. Defensively, they all knew their responsibilities and played a tight system. They were very disciplined and rarely took penalties.”
It’s a complete package, but Doug Wilson’s words echo what every player and official has said all yea: Anyone can beat anyone in this league”.
A full-strength Ice has the capacity to match it with the Ice Dogs and North Stars, if they can tighten their defence and keep out of the penalty box.
An exciting season is about to undergo a thrilling finale.
Next week:* AIHL clubs give their exclusive verdict on the finals, the best players in the league and the health of the game in Australia.*Full coverage of the AIHL finals series matches.
Friday, August 17
Gold Coast Blue Tongues 5 v Sydney Ice Dogs 4
Saturday, August 18
Perth Thunder 1 v Melbourne Ice 3 Melbourne Mustangs 0 v Adelaide Adrenaline 1 Canberra Knights 6 v Newcastle North Stars 7 (SO)
Sunday, August 19
Perth Thunder 2 v Melbourne Ice 4 Melbourne Mustangs 4 v Adelaide Adrenaline 6 Sydney Bears 4 v Newcastle North Stars 0 Sydney Ice Dogs 9 v Canberra Knights 7
Thursday, August 23Gold Coast Blue Tongues v Melbourne Ice, Icehouse, Docklands, 7.00pm*
Saturday, August 24Adelaide Adrenaline v Gold Coast Blue Tongues, 4.30pmNewcastle North Stars v Perth Thunder, 5.00pmCanberra Knights v Melbourne Mustangs, 5.30pm
Sunday, August 25Adelaide Adrenaline v Gold Coast Blue Tongues, 4.30pmSydney Ice Dogs v Perth Thunder, 5.00pmSydney Bears v Melbourne Mustangs, 5.00pm
2012 AIHL FINALS SERIES
Saturday 1 September:3.30pm: Newcastle North Stars vs Adelaide Adrenaline7.00pm: Melbourne Ice vs Sydney Ice Dogs
Sunday 2 September:4.00pm: Winners of Semi #1 and Semi #2
Australian Ice Hockey league at a glance:
– There are nine teams, playing in two conferences
– The top two teams from each conference make the sudden death finals on the first weekend in September, in Newcastle. The semi-finals are played on Saturday, with the grand final played the following day.
– Each team is allowed four imports, usually professionals from European or junior North American leagues. The league is completely amateur, though imports are allowed to receive assistance to help with accommodation etc.
– Melbourne Ice has won the past two championships.
* Gold Coast is playing the remainder of its home matches this season in Brisbane at the Acacia Ridge rink.
Full Standings – click here
Leading scorers – click here
Melbourne Ice (including live webcasts of Ice games) – click here
Melbourne Mustangs – click here
AIHL – click here
Melbourne Icehouse – click here
To check out Resolution Media’s Melbourne Ice doco: click here.
A crash course in hockey rules, courtesy Newcastle North Stars: click here
Hewitt Sports Network AIHL news – click here
For a great read on the voyage of a new hockey fan – Nick Place’s hockey blog
River Road hockey blog – click here
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.