Heading into the AWIHL Finals as favourites and league leaders are the Melbourne Ice who will be out to exact some revenge from last season and reclaim the Joan McKowen Memorial Trophy. Andrew Hewitt with more.
Regular season form :: There is only one word to describe the Melbourne Ice’s performance in the 2012/13 AWIHL regular season: Dominant.
The Ice gained some quality in the off season, including the likes of Frances McPhail and Rylie Padjen. Getting Padjen from long time rivals the Adelaide Adrenaline was one of if not the biggest move in AWIHL history with Rylie a valued servant of the Adrenaline organisation.
There were few weaknesses in the play of the Ice over the AWIHL season with firepower readily available, arguably the strongest goalies in the league and a defence with size, speed and the ability to go forward.
Finishing on top of the AWIHL Standings, the Ice only lost twice; once home and once away to the Adrenaline falling 4-3 in Adelaide and then 3-2 in front of their own fans.
While they finished at the top of the table in the goals for column, it was the goals conceded that was more impressive for me. The Ice knocked in 71 goals passed their opposition but only allowed 20 goals out of their 12 games.
Route to AWIHL Grand Final :: Ahead for the Ice lies a date with rivals and second seeded Adelaide Adrenaline who will look to agitate their opponents. If the Ice fall for that ploy, it could prove fatal as it is Melbourne who have sat the highest amount of penalty minutes in the league.
Training on and regularly playing on a larger ice surface will automatically help the Ice in their quest for another AWIHL Finals victory and they should deal with the Adrenaline comfortably in the Semi.
That will mean that they move straight through to the Grand Final Goal Medal Game on Sunday evening. Their opponent, decided earlier in the day will most likely be the Adrenaline, but you cannot discount the Sirens with a vocal home crowd behind them.
Key Players :: As mentioned earlier , Rylie Padjen and Frances McPhail were great pickup in the off season for the Ice, however for me at least, they are not the keys.
Yes, McPhail is second in the league in scoring with 31 points (18G, 13A) and Padjen has supplied 16 points (8g, 8A) with a +/- of +14 despite being the most penalised player in the league, but the Ice’s key lies elsewhere.
The Ice is the essential team, with leaders and rookies all giving 100% all of the time. Leaders like Lucy Parrington and Shona Green will be looked at to provide power up front while in defence Nicole Tritter and Georgia Carson will hold the fort down back.
In goal, the best record of any goaltender also belongs to the Ice with Courtney Rea winning all of her six starts with some amazing stats (3SO, 4GA, 0.67 GAA, .966 SV%).
Why will they win :: Because losing is not an option. It’s simple, any loss over the AWIHL Finals weekend will be looked on as a less than perfect performance even if they eventually lift the Joan McKowen Memorial Trophy.
Like I said before, on paper and on the ice, there are very few cracks in the Ice’s roster as should be the Melbourne team’s confidence.
As a playing group they know they have the team to win it and win it in style, but they must still perform to their potential. Many dominant teams in the history of sport have failed at the final hurdle and this will what the Ice coaching staff will be focussing on.
Where they will struggle :: The only way the Melbourne Ice will struggle is if they can’t handle the mental pressure. On the ice, Melbourne are the best side in the AWIHL this season and so it will only be inward pressure that will stop them from taking home the title at the AWIHL Finals this weekend.
Prediction :: The Melbourne Ice will win their Semi Final against the Adrenaline reasonably comfortably but will find it a different situation in Sunday’s Gold Medal Game.
Most likely the Ice will again face the Adelaide side however they will also be facing a more determined and warmed up Adrenaline team. After having to play in the Qualifying Final on Sunday morning the Adrenaline will have skated on the surface that day, know its intricacies and be better prepared.
In a tight Grand Final, the Joan McKowen Memorial Trophy will be making its way back to Victoria, home of the Melbourne Ice.
By Andrew Hewitt
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