For the first time in their short history, the CBR Brave made their way up to the Sydney Ice Arena on Sunday 03 August. With a spot in the AIHL Finals looming for the Brave but only as spectators for the Bears, the home fans were desperate for a good result.
Pre-game was busy. Over the last few weeks, I was getting used to seeing star Sydney Bears forward Dane Ludolph not suited up due to injury. The man himself was now inches away from me, suited up. I asked him if he was back from injury and ready to play. His response? It was team photo day for the Bears and he was suited up for the team photo. Another person that was suited up but not playing was goaltender Daniel Palmkivst. As he explained to me later at the merchandise stall, he suffered a hip injury in Adelaide and is taking every precaution before returning home soon for his winter season in the northern hemisphere. This could be a common theme across the lower half of the competition table for the Bears, the North Stars and the Thunder as the competition draws to an end.
Watching the Sydney Bears assemble on the benches on centre ice, it was hard to know what was coming up. I was handed a camera and asked to take the team photo. This would be the last time that the Bears would be smiling that afternoon. With Palmkvist injured, fan favourite back up goal tender Luke Read took to the ice with calls of “Use the force, Luke!” ringing around the arena. Fellow Hewitt Sports writer Sean Lopez had even constructed a “Use the force, Luke” meme prior to the match but it did not help.
Unfortunately for the Bears, the hot shot CBR Brave trio of Stephen Blunden, Anton Kokkonen and Mathieu Ouellette must have heard that call too and took that as a challenge. With a back up goalie waiting in case a back up for the back up was needed, Read would have known that regardless of what happened, he was going to be there for the full 50 minutes barring injury.
Even the biggest Bear fan can see that the team from Baulkham Hills are gone for the season. Depending how who you talk to, the Perth Thunder and the Newcastle North Stars are also gone (me) or still have a slim chance (various people in the Thunder and North Stars camps). The North Stars had a close loss to the Brave the day before in Canberra, losing 3-2. After this match was played in Sydney, the North Stars did something the Bears have not done all season and defeated the Sydney Ice Dogs, 5-3 in Newcastle. Meanwhile in Perth, the Thunder went down to the Melbourne Mustangs in two matches (3-1 on Saturday, 7-4 on Sunday). The Mustangs Twitter account went into exclamation mark meltdown over the weekend with the amount of goals at the Thunderdome. Luckily for the team in orange, they weren’t live tweeting this game otherwise the Bears would owe the Mustangs a new ! key and the Stang would be down and out with heat exhaustion after all the Brave goals.
With CBR Brave seemingly scoring at will, it was a great day to be in yellow face paint. Surprisingly, very few Brave fans made the trip to Sydney compared to their last game against the Ice Dogs at Liverpool. Brave captain Mark Rummukainen (aka Rummo) had very little to get hot under the collar about, unlike his appearances during a previous promotional video. His forwards were scoring goals and his defence was not being greatly tested. Unfortunately for the Brave highlights reel creators, matches at Sydney Ice Arena are not filmed or streamed so the Brave might have to re-create their goals at training during the week.
An early game misconduct seemingly had robbed the game of one of the star players for the Brave – one possible thing that Rummo could go off about like a frog in a sock. However, Mathieu Ouellette was back on the bench early in the first period – what was going on here? Shouldn’t he be sitting in the Brave dressing room washing his hair? An announcement at the first Zamboni break solved the mystery – Ouellette was not involved in the earlier brohaha but was announced incorrectly. Brave mystery man Ryan Johnson (not in the program) was the one sitting out the game after the early altercation with Bear Alec Stephenson within the first 2 minutes of the game.
You wouldn’t have to be Captain Obvious to figure out that the Bears were frustrated. Out of finals contention and the Brave forwards full of pew pew pew, the Bears are waiting for their season to end and it shows. Captain Schlamp had long discussions with Team Zebra at the end of periods and the discussion was not to enquire about their health. Running at the bottom of the ladder is clearly frustrating. Losing a player for the rest of the match after 2 minutes – in what was a pretty innocuous fight compared to others in recent AIHL history – obviously was not part of the game plan. It is easy to feel that you are copping the raw end of the pineapple (pro-tip for our international readers, Google “copping the raw end of the pineapple” with safe search firmly in the on position) from the Zebras when you are not one of the top teams. The Bears had no answer for the Brave in the first two periods. The Brave led 3-1 after the first period and 5-1 by the end of the second. Despite the big scoreline to that point, shots at goal only favoured the Brave 24-17. The main highlight of Michael Schlamp’s day would have been a 3rd period goal and an assist.
For the Bears faithful in the stands, not being able to see the scoreboard across the ice was not a bad thing for once. CBR were scoring at will. With the name Blunden being announced so often, I was losing count about how many goals he had scored during the game. If Blunden’s name was not announced, I would look to see where he was. At one stage, he was taking a well earned rest on the bench. “No wonder he didn’t score that one, he’s on the bench” as I pointed in the direction of the bench for the benefit of those around me. If Blunden wasn’t scoring, Ouellette and Kokkonen were. Despite Blunden’s high scoring rate, there wasn’t an obvious need or a campaign to send the puck his way. I even pondered asking the man himself at the end of the game to tell me how many goals he scored. For the record, he ended up with 6 goals and 1 assist. Ouellette finished up with 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) while Kokkonen finished with 5 assists.
With the score potentially going to be anything in the third period, the Bears did show some fight as they played their part in a 10 goal period (Brave 7-3 for the period). As happened on the last Saturday game in Adelaide recently, the Bears staged something of a 3rd period come back with a player getting a hat trick of goals, albeit well overshadowed by the opposing team. In Adelaide, Sean Hamilton Steen’s hat trick (well done, Robosteen!) was overshadowed by Oddyfest, the weekend celebrating 300 games for the Adelaide Adrenaline captain. Meanwhile for this game, Ben DiMarco (or as I now call him after a goal, Marco Goalo) had his hat trick overshadowed by 6 goals to Stephen Blunden. Some of the Bears goals could be due to a couple of factors. Clearly, the Brave had control of the game at all times and could afford to ease back on the throttle.
A major concern and a contributing factor to some of the later Bears goals was the injury early in the 3rd period to Brave powerhouse tender Petri Pitkanen. In traffic, he went down and stayed down. Unlike when a couple of injured Bears went down during the game, the game was stopped pretty quickly. Pitstop (as he has been dubbed by his fans) had to make a pitstop of his own after gingerly getting to his feet and headed off the ice for treatment. Back up goalie Brad Hunt had to leave the bench door duties to someone else and instantly get up to speed and get his eye in. Hunt managed to save 9/12 while Pitkanen had saved 18/19 at the time of his injury. Speaking to him briefly after the game, Petri revealed that he had received a skate to the lower abdomen (no surprise considering the amount of traffic he was in at the time) but should be ok again soon – hopefully before the next series of games against the Mustangs in Canberra.
From the AIHL website’s Box Score of the game, the 3rd period goal fest went as follows:
- CBR Brave at 19:36 – Stephen Blunden from Mathieu Ouellette and Anton Kokkonen
- CBR Brave at 13:39 – Stephen Blunden from Mathieu Ouellette
- CBR Brave at 12:48 – Mathieu Ouellette from Stephen Blunden and Mark Rummukainen
- CBR Brave at 10:42 – Stephen Blunden from Anton Kokkonen and Mathieu Ouellette
- CBR Brave at 9:27 – Matthew Harvey from David Lewis
- Sydney Bears at 9:05 – Ben Di Marco (unassisted)
- Sydney Bears at 7:58 – Michael Schlamp from Sean Hamilton Steen and Ben Di Marco
- CBR Brave at 3:18 (SH) – Matthew Harvey (unassisted)
- CBR Brave at 2:49 (SH) – Stephen Blunden from Mathieu Ouellette and Aaron Clayworth
- Sydney Bears at 1:43 – Ben Di Marco from John Lavery and Brett Nelson-Bond
Despite the earlier misconducts to Ryan Johnson (Brave) and Alec Stephenson (Bears) as well as Branden Stobbs (Bears) and Harry Byers (Brave) midway through the 3rd period, there were only 6 powerplays during the match. Words had been exchanged between the two benches and on the ice between the game, eventually Stobbs v Byers happened in front of the benches. The officials let the two combatants tire themselves out before dispatching both of them as a result. With no other players involved and both players playing a role in the fight, a centre ice zebra conference seemed un-necessary. It was clear that both players would have a head start on their showers but for some reason, a couple of minutes passed while the officials worked out their next course of action. And no, Daryl Hamilton was not officiating, just in case you were wondering.
Neither team converted their power plays but when the score ended up 12-4, the Brave really did not really need to convert their 2 power plays. There were 3 shorthanded goals during the game, 2 to the Brave and 1 to the Bears. Needless to say, fans of defensive hockey games would have hated this game. Even though the score line was terrible for the Bears, the Brave totally deserved the win and played good – but not always brilliant – hockey. While the hit out for the Brave was good and the 3 points would be valuable for them, the match could not be seen as an accurate form guide compared to the other teams in the running for the finals. Any one of the top 5 teams could have had a similar result against the Bears that afternoon.
So what are my take home lessons from the match?
I enjoyed being back at Sydney Ice Arena after a while on the road.
- Sometimes it is better to watch the game without live tweeting. I could not imagine typing SCORES!!!!!!!!!!!! by the end of this game!. It was bad enough typing “Brave goal” every time the Brave scored.
- If Some Guy who can score goals wants to come to the Bears, he would be welcomed with open arms.
- The future of Sydney Ice Arena for the sake of ice hockey in Sydney is more important than saving the venue because someone likes the hot chips there. Someone actually did write that on the change.org petition to help save the venue from redevelopment!
- The after-game hot chips at the arena were ok but I have had better.
- Luke Read can concede 12 goals but he will still sign autographs afterwards and will not avoid social media that night.
- One thing I didn’t take home was my black Sydney Bears jumper. It finally arrived but my name was spelt incorrectly! There were only 3 letters to get correct on the back of the jersey and thankfully, my handwriting is not at fault. It was not as though I was getting names like Kokkonen, Ouellette or Rummukainen on the back! I hope to have that corrected and be wearing the jersey by the final game of the season against the Brave and then to the finals in Melbourne.
- I learnt some interesting AIHL trivia. According to AIHL records, the highest scoring game was Newcastle North Stars at home defeating the (then) Canberra Knights 21-2 in August 2006. North Stars import Marcel Kars scored 8 goals and had 4 assists for a total of 12 points.
The Bears will live to fight another day against their cross town rivals for the 4th Battle of Sydney for the year at Sydney Ice Arena on Saturday August 9. The Ice Dogs have won the previous 3 encounters this year but will be smarting after their loss to the North Stars last Sunday. Speaking of the North Stars, the Bears travel to Newcastle on Sunday for their final road trip of the year before a weekend off after that. Meanwhile, the Brave take on the Mustangs in Canberra which could be a preview for the upcoming finals. The Brave and the Bears will meet up again in Sydney for their final game in the regular season on Saturday August 23 at Sydney Ice Arena. Despite the way that the Bears are playing, it would be nice to see a large crowd at both remaining home games to see the team off and to see some brilliant hockey.
CBR Brave 12 defeated Sydney Bears 4 at Sydney Ice Arena
- Brave: Stephen Blunden 6, Matthew Harvey 2, Mathieu Ouellette, Chris McPhail, Jordan Gavin, Kai Miettinen
- Bears: Ben DiMarco 3, Michael Schlamp
- Brave: Mathieu Ouellette 5, Anton Kokkonen 5, Aaron Clayworth, Stephen Blunden, David Lewis, Mark Rummukainen, James Byers, Harry Byers
- Bears: Steve Adams, Michael Schlamp, John Lavery, Brett Nelson-Bond, Sean Hamilton Steen, Ben DiMarco