After a season of blood, sweat and tears, the AIHL 2014 season comes down to one weekend in Melbourne. The teams are known, the games are known and the Icehouse will be full. Come Sunday afternoon, someone will hoist the Goodall Cup in the air. Who will it be?
The final weekend of the AIHL saw the final 4 teams known but the finishing order was not known until midway through Sunday’s match between the Sydney Ice Dogs & MOAT: Melbourne Mustangs. While the final weekend may have meant nothing on paper to the bottom 4 teams, finishing the season for them on a high would be important. The Adelaide Adrenaline completed their season the previous weekend with 2 wins against CBR Brave. The Brave headed to Sydney to take on the Sydney Bears. While the Bears did go down 3-2, it was a vastly improved effort compared to the 12-4 drubbing in early August in front of a good crowd at Sydney Ice Arena.
Also completing their season on Saturday night at home were the Newcastle North Stars. Facing the Mustangs as a part of their mega series against both Melbourne teams, the Novocastrians went down 4-1. Meanwhile in Melbourne, the Melbourne Ice would not have been expecting to lose their final 2 games of the season to the Perth Thunder in Melbourne. Saturday’s game ended with a shootout goal to Ric Del Basso and THAT celebration and a 5-4 shootout win to Perth. The following day, the Thunder found themselves on every Mustang fans’ Christmas card list as they defeated the Ice 3-2.
The results worked in the Mustangs’ favour. With the men in orange winning in Newcastle (including Ethan Cornford’s first AIHL goal) on Saturday and the results in Melbourne favouring them, the game against the Ice Dogs became a celebration. Halfway through the game, it was confirmed that the Mustangs would become the 2014 Minor Premiers regardless of the result against the Ice Dogs. That game had a very quick and intense opening but the Ice Dogs won in a shootout 4-3.
With the results of the weekend known, it is now finals time! In the first match, the MOAT: Melbourne Mustangs (1) play the Sydney Ice Dogs (4) on Saturday August 30 at 3pm. Following this match will be the other semi-final with the Melbourne Ice (2) playing the CBR Brave (3) at 6.30pm. On Sunday at 3pm, the winner of each semi-final will contest the championship game.
Who will win?
Melbourne Mustangs vs Sydney Ice Dogs
You do not have to go back very far to remember the last time these teams met each other. Last weekend at Liverpool, the Ice Dogs won a tough game in a shootout by 4-3. In the season’s opening weekend, the Mustangs blew the Ice Dogs out of the water in Melbourne winning 6-3. Soon after, the Ice Dogs returned to Melbourne and lost again, this time in a closer game, 4-2. In mid-May, the Mustangs made their first trip to the Icedogsdome for the first time in 2014 and the home team won 7-2.
- Look for the main 3 scorers for the Mustangs – Pat O’Kane, Joey Hughes & Jamie Bourke. Bourke was rested against the Ice Dogs & North Stars last weekend and did not travel. O’Kane scored early against the Ice Dogs but also found himself frustrated early in the game by the Ice Dogs. Joey Hughes had a target on his back last weekend against the Ice Dogs but gave as good as he got. The Stangs need the Hughes brothers on the ice and not in the penalty box.
- Fraser Carson has been a rock in front of the net. Somehow overlooked for AIHL Goalie of the Year – and the only Australian tender in the finals series – Fraser is 3rd in the AIHL goalie standings for Games Against Average (2.98) and has a similar save percentage as his opposing tender, Tim Noting.
- Speaking of Tim Noting, he will gobble up pucks all day if they are shot from downtown. He gives some big rebounds and can be vulnerable in traffic. It will be up to his defencemen to help him out.
- The Ice Dogs have epic firepower in their top line including Simon Barg (leading point scorer in the AIHL, 60 points), David Dunwoodie & John Clewlow. If the Mustangs concentrate on one player, the others can still provide headaches. Players like Billy Cliff, Paddy Ward and Shane Southwood can not be allowed to roam free either.
- It is important for the Ice Dogs to stay out of the penalty box. They play a physical game but there is a fine line between pleasure and pain. That said, Simon Barg is handy at snagging shorthanded goals. Don’t be surprised if Mitch Bye, David Dunwoodie and Paddy Ward spend at least one stint in the penalty box.
- The Ice Dogs are the defending Goodall Cup holders so do not expect them to roll over and play dead. Many of their team from this year also played a part in their 2013 success.
- While it is the Mustangs’ first finals appearance, some players have won the cup with the Melbourne Ice while others have representative experience.
Melbourne Ice vs CBR Brave
The Melbourne Ice and CBR Brave have played 4 times in 2014 and 3 of these games have ended in a shootout. The format of the finals are different and in the result of equal scores at the end of regulation time, there will be overtime (FINALLY!). If either game is going to overtime this weekend, this is it. The Ice will need to forget about last weekend against the Thunder while this is the Brave’s first AIHL Finals appearance.
- For the Brave, look for their main weapons up forward. Stephen Blunden was by far the leading goal scorer in the AIHL this year (36 goals), even after a 2 game suspension after the last meeting with the Ice Dogs. Anton Kokkonen has been a willing ally as has Mathieu Ouellette (and not Mathieu Dugas as featured incorrectly on an infographic). There are some injury concerns however about Ouellette and he may not play. The Brave will give him every chance to prove his fitness.
- During the week, Brave goaltender Petri Pitkanen was awarded as the club’s first MVP. He has a low Goals Against Average (2.93) as does his opponent, Jaden Pine-Murphy (2.23). The battle of the tenders will be an interesting one & could decide the match.
- For the ice, look towards their top 3 scorers, Matt Armstrong, Tommy Powell & Lliam Webster. Also look for Jeff Smith (you won’t miss seeing him!) to create havoc for Petri Pitkanen in front of the Brave net as a massive screen.
- Being a very successful franchise, look for the experience of the Ice players. A Canberra based club and many of their players have not played finals hockey at this level.
- Many people from across the league will be cheering on the Brave this weekend to give their epic zero to hero story a happy ending.
Apart from the 3 games of hockey, there will be several events to keep hockey fans out of their hotel rooms. The AIHL Awards are announced on Saturday night at Groove Train while the post-game after party at the Icehouse on Sunday will be epic. Who will bring the Goodall Cup to that party? All will be revealed by Sunday night.