AIHL Finals Through The Eyes Of A Bear (Part 2)

Part 1 of my weekend of the AIHL Finals weekend summary was huge but Grand Final day with a Melbourne showdown between the Mustangs and the Ice would be bigger still. While the Brave and Ice Dogs fans could start their off season a day earlier than they would have hoped, expectations were high on the day that every AIHL player and club look forward to.

Part 1 of my finals weekend in Melbourne had prepared me some what for Grand Final Sunday even if the atmosphere at times was like a regular game. At the end of the night, a long off season would start until the start of the 2015 season in April. The climax of a long and hard AIHL season would occur on Sunday August 30. In what would become another Melbourne Derby, the MOAT: Melbourne Mustangs would face the Melbourne Ice for the Goodall Cup at the Icehouse. With the rest of the AIHL and overseas viewers watching on, a big afternoon was expected.

#bearpatrol - not going home in the back of a divvy van! Photo - Eric Brook

#bearpatrol – not going home in the back of a divvy van! Photo – Eric Brook

After a peaceful night’s sleep not in the back of a divvy van on Saturday night, I headed back to the Icehouse precinct for lunch on Sumday. After spending Saturday night at Groove Train, I decided that a steak lunch at the Harbour Town Hotel was in order.  First, I had to get to Harbour Town, once again by free City Circle tram. I recorded a video onboard the tram while it was having an extended stop outside Parliament House. Nobody on the tram seemed to think that some guy talking into a microphone was anything out of the ordinary. Some of my friends who know me away from hockey also liked the video on line. My videos – which was not part of my original game plan – were certainly getting a lot of comments. I was hoping that seeing these videos will encourage other people to do a Melbourne road trip with me next year.

Normally something seen in Melbourne by an AFL fan, I was pleased to see this car with a Mustangs scarf displayed proudly. Photo - Eric Brook

Normally something seen in Melbourne by an AFL fan, I was pleased to see this car with a Mustangs scarf displayed proudly. Photo – Eric Brook

While on Flinders Street at a set of traffic lights, I saw a car beside me with a Mustangs scarf hanging out of the window. Not being able to see the people inside the car, I only knew that someone was a Mustangs fan. “GO MUSTANGS!”, I yelled through the window to no response. A couple of times later, the window winds down and a couple of my Mustangs friends realise it is me yelling.  A tram load of people have at least heard some guy yelling out of a window even if they had no idea what a Mustangs is. Unknown to me at the time, fellow Hewitt Sports writer Sean “Stat Man” Lopez was also on the tram. He knew what I was yelling but not why.  Sean is no stranger when it comes to hearing me yell at Bears games. Mind you, I had also never seen Sean at an AIHL game with glass before as I had on the previous day.

Erk Stat Man Sunday

#bearpatrol with fellow HSN writer Sean “Stat Man” Lopez. Photo – Eric Brook

I seem to do some of my best networking in Melbourne. Without the regular pressures of every day life, I have more time to be social and network. Sean & I ended up having lunch together while other Ice fans and the occasional Mustangs fan did the same. It was a pleasant day outside to eat in the shadow of the Melbourne Star. It also allowed me to see the passing parade of people walking to the Icehouse. A great advantage of Melbourne is that you do not need to get into your car at all to get to a game – Sydney, Newcastle, Canberra & Perth are a lot harder to do by public transport. After a game in Sydney, if I am in my car, I am going home. After a game in Melbourne, I’m off to the pub.

After lunch, we headed across the road to the Icehouse. It did not feel like a Grand Final nor were there the queues that would happen at a grand final of other national level sporting events. With a pink wristband to go along with yesterday’s yellow one, I eventually made my way to my seat. I stopped in at the South Pole where many Ice supporters were gathering near the glass. It felt more like what I would imagine a Melbourne Derby to be with the addition of some supporters of other teams. One of my aims is to return to Melbourne for a Bears road trip next year and possibly even a Melbourne Derby.

It was the last day of the season so The Stang had no problem hamming it up for the camera. Photo - Eric Brook

It was the last day of the season so The Stang had no problem hamming it up for the camera. Photo – Eric Brook

While I had plenty of people to talk to, I was surprised to find that there was not a lot of pre-game entertainment. The ice was just sitting there – unused. It would have been a great time for a lead up game of some sort. I could only imagine what a Brave v Ice Dogs game would have been like as a curtain raiser. In some sports, there would have been another game as a lead up in lower grade or a 3 v 4 playoff.

There were some pre-recorded fan predictions which made by various fans outside the Icehouse. There were no repeats of the Del Basso  punter commentators or some celebrations that were filmed the previous day. With only 1 game and no pre-game entertainment for a Sunday afternoon game, there was a different feeling compared to the previous day. Apart from The Stang , he was also joined by Ice mascot Ice Man. The Stang was having a great time on the final day of the season including video bombing me during one of my video updates.

There was, however, a live anthem singer was performing today compared to a recording before both games the previous day. Fans of the TV show The Voice (and possibly local fans) would have known who she was. There is a different dynamic between a pre-recorded instrumental version and a live singer.

Finally, the Mustangs and the Ice hit the … um … ice. Being a Sydney resident, this was my first Melbourne Derby experience. That said, this was a different atmosphere because it was a grand final. There were still a lot of Ice Dogs and Brave supporters watching on despite their teams being eliminated the previous day. Speaking to non Ice fans, many people were supporting the Mustangs. Despite being minor premiers, it would be fair to still regard the Mustangs as underdogs – or should that be underhorses?

As history would show, the Mustangs were too big and too strong and too good for the Ice, winning 6-1. For much of game, it looked like Fraser Carson would achieve a grand final shut out. Unlike yesterday’s game, there was little chanting for “J-P-M” and lots of chanting towards Joey and Vinny Hughes. Naturally, the Mustangs fans were chanting for their heroes in orange while the Ice fans were chanting at them too – for leaving the Ice and going to the Mustangs.

One of the weirder incidents happened mid game. Pat O’Kane was sent to the Mustangs penalty box for delay of game. With 8 seconds of his sentence remaining, referee Rick West was injured on the ice. There was a delay to treat him and while a replacement (Jeff Scott) suited up. The ice also needed to be cleaned up. After the game, it was reported that a few stitches later, Rick was thankfully ok. Meanwhile, Pat O’Kane was spending some quality alone time in the penalty box. While both teams were able to have an unofficial time out, Pat could not join his team. He spent part of his time waving to his mum via the ATC Productions cameras. For a 2 minute delay of game minor, he ended up spending 10 minutes of actual time in the penalty box due to unfortunate delay.

As the game continued along with the Mustangs goals, the orange clad fans increased the volume while the Ice fans were still chanting albeit less often. While the Ice fans would not have enjoyed the result, everyone else was having a great time celebrating the Mustangs goals.  There was a lot to celebrate with 6 goals scored. The usually potent Ice attack had nothing compared to the Mustangs. As a classic grand final result, the scores were not close. During the year, the two Melbourne teams  had exchanged the top positions on the competition table. If both teams played to their potential,the score would have been a lot closer.

Mustangs captain Sean Jones in the tunnel after the Grand Final. Photo - Eric Brook

Mustangs captain Sean Jones in the tunnel after the Grand Final. Photo – Eric Brook

As the crowd counted down the seconds, it was official. The Mustangs were the winners of the AIHL and the Goodall Cup for 2014. After playing 28 games of the regular season, they had won 17 games, lost 8 in regulation time and lost 3 in a shootout. Finishing on 54 points and 3 points in front of the Ice, the minor premiers were now the champions. Looking at the joy on the ice and the joy of the Mustangs fans around the arena, I could only imagine how that would feel like if the Bears were in that position. I was also thinking about how excited the various people I knew connected with the club in any way would be feeling right at that point.

As one could imagine, the Ice were dejected at the other end of the …. um …. ice.  They knew exactly what the Mustangs were feeling right now, especially those who had any part of the 3peat in 2010, 2011 & 2012. Some people involved in those wins were now firmly in the orange camp. It was possible that some of the players had not played in a losing grand final at AIHL level.

It took a short time to get ready for the presentations for the winners and other award winners. The AIHL Awards for the season were advertised as being awarded on Saturday night however the time was eventually changed to what should be the natural time of the awards – straight after the grand final. Apart from the obvious winners of awards, one of the highlights of the awards ceremony was Sydney Ice Dogs forward Simon Barg’s award presentation. He was being awarded as the MVP of the regular season after being the leading point scorer. He has his newborn baby in his arms which later prompted the AIHL to post on social media that the baby was in fact Simon’s and not the MVP trophy.

For the Mustangs, Viktor Gibbs Sjodin was awarded as the MVP of the Finals while Jack Wolgemuth was awarded the AIHL Defenceman of the Year. Despite not featuring in the grand final after having a performance not of his usual standard, Petri Pitkanen was awarded AIHL Goalie of the Year. It was revealed later that Petri had been suffering the flu and bravely fought on. Melbourne Ice’s Jeremy Brown was awarded AIHL Rookie of the Year.

While the Mustangs were receiving their individual medals, I was off to the tunnel again for interviews. Considering the loss, At the South Pole end of the tunnel, the media gaggle first spoke with Ice coach Brent Laver & captain Lliam Webster were reflective but also complementary of their cross-town rival’s success while looking forward to 2015. A few minutes later at the other end of the hallway, Mustangs coach Brad Vigon and captain Sean Jones were understandably happy with the result and what it meant to be a part of the first ever Mustangs championship.

Interviews complete, I headed over to the official after party in the vicinity of the penalty boxes. The networking and post-game analysis continued for some time there before people left for their respective after parties. Looking through the glass, I could see a lot of people at centre ice, along with the Zamboni. Before I knew it, there was a guy who had the contents of the Zamboni tipped on him. I was later to find out that the guy concerned was the Australia/New Zealand General Manager of Air Canada – one of many hockey related people to undertake the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in recent weeks.

#bearpatrol with several Ice Dogs fans & Cardboard Schlampy. Photo - Eric Brook

#bearpatrol with Ice Dogs fans & Cardboard Schlampy. Photo – Eric Brook

A lighter moment of the afternoon was me being allowed to take home a rather large cardboard cutout of Sydney Bears captain Michael Schlamp. I had my photo taken with a couple of Ice Dogs fans and Cardboard Schlampy as the cutout would be called from then on. The Mustangs had raised the Goodall Cup but I could raise something into the air myself – Cardboard Schlampy. During the game, Cardboard Fraser Carson was roaming around the Icehouse – he is now under lock and key. It is believed that Cardboard Stephen Blunden (CBR Brave) and Cardboard David Dunwoodie (Sydney Ice Dogs) went home with their respective teams. As I left the Icehouse at the tail end of the after party, there was one cutout left from the Ice.

Raising Cardboard Schlampy into the air at the after party. Photo - Eric Brook.

Raising Cardboard Schlampy into the air at the after party. Photo – Eric Brook.

Walking towards Harbour Town with Cardboard Schlampy, there was a little bit of a breeze blowing. Briefly stopping at the Harbour Town Hotel, the Ice fans outside greeted Cardboard Schlampy and I. Needless to say, the mood there was a little sombre. The place that I wanted to be, win or lose, was Groove Train.

As you could expect, Groove Train was heaving. Players, staff and fans of the Mustangs were gathering around the Goodall Cup, drinking from it while the crowd chanted on. When one person finished, the crowd would chant someone else’s name and they would step up to have a drink. Even for people who do not like drinking beer, it would be one thing to do if you are part of a winning team.

Eventually, Cardboard Schlampy and I were able to make our way through the crowd. I sat at a table, watching and listening to the various conversations and celebrations going on around me. It was not hard for me to feel a lot of pride but also envy for what was going on around me – something that I would dearly love to repeat with Cardboard Schlampy and the rest of the Bears in person next year.

You may be wondering how I got Cardboard Schlampy home to Sydney. After leaving Groove Train, we went on a tram ride to the city. Due to the height of the tram, he needed to be lying on his side. Arriving at Flinders Street Station, it was time for Cardboard Schlampy and I to part ways for now. His new local owner was taking him to his new home on the tram and then on a train. Fortunately for everyone, the tram and the train were not crowded and the journey was relatively easy – as easy as it can be when someone is carrying a cardboard hockey player who is way taller than they are. I have been assured that Cardboard Schlampy is enjoying his new Melbourne home.

With Cardboard Schlampy safely delivered to his new home, my grand final day was over. Monday was a recovery day for all concerned with a late flight out of Melbourne for me on Monday afternoon. One of the good things about this trip was that I was traveling with other hockey fans compared to flying solo on my previous road trip. Spending some quality lounge time at Tullamarine, my traveling partners and I compared our weekends.

If there was a time for lounge hotdogs, today was it. There were no hotdogs in the Sydney lounge – would we be better off in Melbourne? It turns out that there were hotdogs albeit on the dinner menu which starts at 5pm. Our flight departed at 5pm.

With the sun setting on the Sydney bound plane, the sun was setting on my debut AIHL season. Leaving the airport, there’s time for reflection and for fans, a long off-season ahead. But for the players, teams and volunteers, the countdown for the 2015 season has begun.

There are so many people to thank and acknowledge for welcoming me to the AIHL community. There are so many good memories from the season with so many friendships & relationships formed. It’s been a great ride & I am already working towards 2015.

In conclusion, congratulations to everyone involved in the 2014 AIHL season. We have new champions and a lot of people will be celebrating for some time to come. In Chinese tradition, 2014 is the year of the horse and the Mustangs drunk out of the Goodall Cup. 2015 is the year of the sheep which for AIHL purposes is very confusing. At the start of April 2015, the journey for Australian hockey champions resumes.

BRING ON 2015!

Eric Brook

Eric Brook

Sydney Writer
Eric was introduced to hockey in early 2014 after being invited to a Portland Winterhawks game in the WHL. After his debut season as a spectator in the AIHL, Eric is now a part of the Sydney Bears organisation.
Eric Brook

@erkpod

Hockey fan, player, commentator, promoter & writer | Train Captain | IYATO/Terrace House superfan | YouTube gamer | @hbrcityhockey @grassroots_au @simulatederk
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