Tuesday, August 7, 2012

New Website!

I am proud to announce that On the Fly Hockey has now moved to a new domain, follow the link below to keep up to date with future articles from On the Fly.

New website -------> http://ontheflyhockey.com

I would also like to welcome Michael Rozleja to On the Fly, coming on as a writer Michael will mainly be covering the Adelaide Adrenaline. Follow Michael on Twitter @mrozleja

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Inside the Lockeroom: Jason Baclig

With the Melbourne Ice heading towards the 2012 Playoffs looking to win their third Goodall Cup in a row, I was able to talk to one of the Ice's star imports Jason Baclig about his life down under as well as his past, present & future as a hockey player.

Photo courtesy of Pic by Wulos
2012 is your third season in the AIHL. Do you now feel comfortable playing hockey here? 
I am and have been very comfortable playing here since arriving actually. It took me few games to adapt to the different pace (as every league is different). I love playing in small rinks and it is a good change to go from playing at the Medibank Icehouse to the smaller rinks throughout this great nation.

Did you know much about the AIHL before arriving? 
I didn't know much at all as only one of my former teammates and good friend Brad Smulders (Gold Coast) played here previous to my arrival. To tell you the truth, all I thought was sand, ocean and sunshine!
You had a very successful stint with the Nijmegen Devils. Was it a hard transition from pro to semi-pro when arriving at the Melbourne Ice? 

The transition was very easy for me. I have been fortunate to have played with the nicest locals in every country I've played in. If you don't get along with your teammates off the ice, it's certain you won't get much done on the ice either. The Melbourne Ice is so well organized that it still feels as though I am playing pro. We are treated very well and have sponsorship and volunteers who work harder than anybody to get us on the ice. 
You hold the record for most career points in the Western Ontario Hockey League. Do you look back on records like these with a sense of pride?

I think it is great that I still have records whilst representing my home Junior team. The WOHL has seen many players move on to the NHL and to have my name in the record books is pretty cool. It was an honour to serve as captain and to have played with so many talented and good hearted people who I have continued to be friends with. 
2012 looks to be another strong season for the Ice. What is the secret?

This year is a little different from the past two years - we realize that this season has many obstacles and we will have to work harder than we ever have if we want to win another Goodall.
You guys are pushing for an AIHL first 3 Championships in a row. Do the players feel the pressure of such an honour?

Not really, I feel that all of this pressure to win 3 is drowned out by the pressure of winning every game that we are expected to win. We are gelling more and more as each game passes so I am anxious to see where our team will be come the big dance.
A core group of players have stayed together for successive seasons. Is that a testament to the culture at the Melbourne Ice? 

I believe in that statement 100%, if the players didn't like it here, we wouldn't be here. That also speaks truth to the Melbourne Ice family that includes the sponsors, volunteers, wives, friends and supporters. Who wouldn't want to be a part of such an awesome group of people?
Speaking of core players staying together. You & Matt Armstrong arrived in 2010,  is there a strong Canadian connection between the two of you?

I think it has a lot to do with where we were in our hockey careers as well as our private lives. We are basically in the exact same situation. It has been the ride of a lifetime having won a championship with him in the Netherlands as line-mates, and now getting to play together here. We also had connecting apartment units in the Netherlands and were roommates for a year when we first arrived here in Melbourne.
Do you see yourself staying at Melbourne Ice for the immediate future? 

Definitely, I love being a part of this growing organization as well as being a part of growth of hockey in Australia. 
Paul Watson has been a constant figure at the Ice. What sort of coach is he and how does he compare to other coaches you have played under? 

I have never met another coach like "Jaff". He is one of the many perfect examples of what Melbourne Ice is all about. He has been around and is a players' coach. He is always concerned with where players' heads are on and especially off the ice. He'll always be there to call you out when you're under performing or if he senses something is off with you. I'm always good to lie to him when it comes to injuries haha.
Who would be the most impressive Ice player you have played with? 

Well I didn't know what to expect when I first arrived here. I thought that the talent was better than what I expected, and it has grown since then. Regarding the Melbourne Ice I have been impressed with everybody to tell you the truth. You'll always see talent, but with hockey it's a mental game and for guys to show mental toughness through sacrifice is unbelievable. We have the most talented local players as well as depth and I believe that is why we've been so successful. Just take a look at the national team roster and how many Ice boys are on it as well as the youth programs.
The Icehouse has become some what of a fortress, with large home support giving a helping hand. How much do the players feed off the crowds energy? 

The crowd is great - everybody loves to play in front of a packed house. We always give it that extra push when we hear the crowd going nuts! Love every one of them.
I hear you can rock a mean guitar. Perhaps a musical career post hockey?

Haha, probably not as mean as my boys StickMike, but I can slap the 6 string a little bit. I'm definitely hoping that something comes about in music - My percussionist (Lachlan Hay - 2x Speed-skating Olympian <-just thought I'd add that in) and I have some material that we are going into the studio with in the next month or so.
Do you support an NHL club? 
I will always be a LEAFS FAN!!!! I am a Collingwood supporter so they go hand in hand right?
Who is the most interesting individual in the Melbourne Ice lockeroom?

My boy Bangs (Tommy Powell), and my Baby boy Bangs (Toddi Graham). It's never a dull moment when those beauties are in fine form.

I would like to thank you for your time & wish you all the best in 2012, as the Ice look to make AIHL history. 
Anytime Andrew, let's hope the hockey Gods are on our side!

By Andrew Macdougall

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Melbourne's weekly round up

Perth Thunder traveled down to Melbourne this weekend in a bid to try & get back on track heading towards the AIHL playoffs, Perth had been in a slight form slump, although as some suggested the team was playing better than the win/loss statistic would tell you. Mustangs were improving under Laforet & wanted to continue that trend, while the Ice were looking to get back in form and look to once again dominate the Easton Conference. But as we found out by Saturday & Sunday afternoon, the weekends of both Melbourne clubs didn't go the way they might have planned.

Thunder v Mustangs

The Mustangs welcomed Perth to the Icehouse on Saturday afternoon & after back to back defeats earlier in the season at home against the Mustangs, Perth were looking to get one back against their fellow Easton Conference rivals. 

Perth get the all important 1st road win
The first period opened up with both teams working well on the backcheck, not allowing either team time to settle on the puck & get any clear scoring opportunities, something which Perth would carry across the whole weekend. Perth would eventually start to get their game going, pushing forward well & really testing Mustangs goalie Oliver Wren (who was once again looking in top form). Perth struck first late into the period when Brad Young was finally able to beat the Canadian & nudge the Thunder ahead, a lead they would hold heading into the first intermission.

As the game went on Perth were able to gradually get on top of the Mustangs, their skating started to become a real issue & the speed of Ken Rolph was showcased as he darted his way through the Mustangs defense which eventually lead to a Phil Ginand goal. It was the start of a 3 goal period (Del Basso, Kudla the other scorers) for Perth, something which I didn't see coming when watching the game unfold. It meant Mustangs coach Steve Laforet had to make the hard call & pull goalie Oliver Wren, something which hadn't been done since Wren's 

The Mustangs put on some very good pressure during the first part of the period, but weren't able to do quite enough on power play opportunities. Although the Thunder did have Kiefer Smiley guarding the goals with his life, coming up with some terrific saves & really looking cool under pressure. He was one of the stand out performers across the weekend in my eyes, he put in two really terrific shifts for the Western Australian outfit.

The Mustangs were able to pull two goals back half way through the final period, it gave the home crowd hope, which was somewhat disappointing (390 according to the AIHL). Scott Levitt scored two terrific goals, one of them a terrific unassisted goal as he tried to ignite & lift his side to an improbable victory. It was short lived however, as Phil Ginand would add two late goals to snuff out any chance of a Mustangs revival & pick up a hat trick in the process. Perth's work on the power play was a stand out throughout the afternoon, 4 goals game from their PP unit which eventually lead to the final scoreline of 7-2. Perth got part one of their Melbourne trip completed, a victory over the Melbourne Mustangs. 

Thunder defender Aaron Wilson one of the stand outs for me in what was a terrific defensive display, but an all round team performance also, Perth were able to pressure well & their poke checking was a feature throughout the match. On the other side of the ice Moore & Levitt have been carrying the offensive load in recent weeks for the Mustangs, both being defenders it is not the perfect scenario for the home team, they will be looking to turn that around & get some more production out of their forwards in the coming weeks.

Thunder v Ice

With the performance from the Thunder the previous day, Sunday's game against the Ice was tipped to be a must watch encounter. Ice had very rarely lost at the Icehouse, Perth were looking to stamp their claim not only on the 2012 season, but they are a team which nobody should be taking lightly (especially if they make the playoffs).

Perth would get on the score sheet first through none other than Phil Ginand, with his partner in crime Ken Rolph picking up the assist. What came after that was in my mind the turning point of the game, Vinny Hughes coming in late & pushing Phil Ginand in the chest forcing him to go flying into the glass & boards, which earned the defender 2 minutes for roughing. The play was dead, Perth had scored & it was not the right time for Hughes to try & flex his muscle. It was the start of 3 penalties in the space of a minute, giving the Thunder power play opportunities, sometimes with a 5 on 3 advantage. Knowing how deadly the Thunder were the previous day on the power play, why would you give away meaningless penalties at that stage of the game?

It's something which I have spoken about in previous weeks in regards to the Ice, it's an area I think the Ice definitely need to try & rectify sooner rather than later. The penalties allowed Perth to get the jump on the Ice, 2 power play goals coming from the 3 penalties given away, it was a lead that was always going to be hard to chase down. Once the Ice knuckled down & started playing the puck a lot more things started to click, 2 late goals (both from Webster) had them back in the match, along with some superb work from Stu Denman who was coming up big for his under siege club.

The Ice are known for their physicality out on the ice, it is what has made them a very solid team throughout the years, but knowing when to be physical is just as important. Do Ice fans see this as a problem?

The game opened up in the second period with both teams pushing forward in search of a goal, it was end to end hockey, which for the fan was a joy to watch. Both goalies coming up with some terrific saves to keep the game interesting heading into the final period, the 2nd period ended on a sour note for Perth however, with Brad Young getting a game misconduct. Something Perth were hoping wouldn't come back to haunt them. As no goals were scored in the second we headed into the third just as the first finished, Perth leading 3-2.

Thunder goalie Kiefer Smiley had a terrific weekend
It was Perth who came out the better side & would open up a match winning lead, Ken Rolph & Phil Ginand the trouble makers for the Thunder as they both scored which gave the Thunder a 5-2 advantage. Speed & stick handling were the flavour of the weekend from the two Thunder stars, something which was a pleasure to watch. Perth continued to poke check & take away the passing lanes, something which the Ice couldn't counter. With the game all but over Martin Kutek was able to draw back a goal late on for the Ice, but it wasn't enough. As Rolph once again was able get on the score sheet with 5:21 remaining to pick up his hat trick & make sure the Thunder returned home with all 6 points. The final score 6-3 in the way of the Thunder.

For the Ice it was a performance not many expected, they didn't have that usual spark about them which we are usually accustomed to. It was a rather lackluster performance which was culminated in some brain freezes during that first period, my take on the Ice is get their PIMs in order, along with the likes of Jason Baclig back & fit on the Ice & things should return to normal order. They are too good of a team for them to fall into a large form slump, I expect the club to be up & about come playoff time.

Perth did everything they wanted to do & more, 6 points from an away trip to Melbourne won't come around everyday, so a terrific job by the WA team. Fours thing I took out of the weekends matches for the Thunder: 

1) Their physicality can match it with the best 
2) They have some serious speed which would scare any team 
3) They have terrifically skilled hockey players on their roster 
4) Their power play unit is scary

Having now been able to witness Perth in the flesh myself, I can comfortably say that the AIHL made the right decision with the inclusion of the team this season. They play terrific hockey, have players which makes you want to go to games & they are a very competitive team. If they are able to make to the post season they have every chance of making some serious noise.

By Andrew Macdougall

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Looking forward with a young Mustangs team

I have seen my fair share of Melbourne Mustangs hockey games this season & sitting at the Icehouse watching the team known as the 'Stangs' defeat the high flying Newcastle North Stars, I took the time to jot down some points for the future of the club. Below are just some areas which I believe the club should focus on looking into 2013.

Keep Steve Laforet in charge of the team. With 3 coaches now having been through the club (Laforet in his 2nd stint) it is time for some stability around the Melbourne new boys, that's not to say that the decisions to move on past coaches was wrong, but since Bill Wilkinson's departure we have definitely seen an improved team out on the ice. This past Sunday was the best display the Mustangs have given their loyal home supporters, something which has carried on from the previous 2 games since Laforet had taken over. It is clear to me that the players respect Steve & show a passion that they want to play under him, he was the coach when the club first got off the ground, so he knows the squad well & I feel he should once again be given the opportunity in 2013.  
Hold onto Oliver Wren. The Canadian born goaltender has been a breath of fresh air for the Mustangs this season, having a horror start to his AIHL career which included a 10-0 defeat away to Adelaide, Wren now seems to have found his footing in the league. Wren has been a constant positive since coming into the team even when faced with various attacks from opposition forwards, on Sunday he once again came up with some very big saves to help ensure the Mustangs would walk away with a home win, a game which seen him take out the 3rd star. If Wren can get enough protection from the defenders & team in front of him, Mustangs should do everything in their power to get the goalie back for season 2013.
Get bigger bodies & experience. One thing that I have noticed throughout 2012 with the Mustangs is the lack of size & experience they have on the ice. They are a young team & it's a development in process, but more protection & experience for the younger brigade is something the club should look for. They do have some size across the team with Brendan Oakes, Scott Livett & Jake Ebner but they need to get bigger, it's an area which the top teams have that makes them a competitive force. With the oldest player Sean Jones only being 27 years old, it's quite clear that a lack of experience across the group needs to be looked at.  Get some big bodies & experience around the much smaller & talented stick handlers & it will only help fast track the young squads development.
Keep core group of players together. While the Mustangs season might not have gone to plan entirely as they are all but gone from playoff contention in 2012, there are some positive signs & ones which I think should be kept together moving forward. Lack of consistency is a tell tale sign of a young sporting team & we see it across all codes, there have been some great results & some disappointing ones, but the talent within the team is definitely there. Which means the core group has what it takes to match it with the best in the AIHL Hardy, Dunstan, Levitt, Robertson just to name a few, are some of the players who need to be kept heading into season 2013. Departures of players who know the system (especially under Laforet) is definitely something the club will be trying to avoid, which is what we seen with Scott Corbett & James Sanford recently, albeit both having their reasons.

These suggestions above might never come to fruition & things could change with the remainder of the 2012 season still to be completed, something the club will firmly have it's sights set on finishing strongly. But if Steve Laforet is willing to continue to take the reigns as Mustangs coach, added with some extra muscle & experience across the squad, 2013 could shape up the as a more successful campaign for the Melbourne club.

By Andrew Macdougall

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Surprises, Streaks & Slumps

This past weekend seen a lot of things happen in the AIHL, surprise results, shock scorelines & form slumps that continued to haunt teams & fans alike. Newcastle stamped their claim as definite challenger (if it wasn't already) for the Goodall Cup, the Sydney Bears did what no other team has done, Gold Coast got back onto the winners list & the Knights continue to struggle. An action packed weekend of hockey action, I will try & fit all of it in.

Perhaps the most surprising, well to me anyway, was the manner in which Newcastle handed Melbourne Ice their defeat on Saturday afternoon. 5-1 the final scoreline in what was a great game of hockey from the home side, which started from opening face off where it took only a minute for Newcastle to hit the lead. Fast paced hockey was the flavour of the night, with both teams moving the puck around well as described by Hewitt Sports.

David Upton - Newcastle North Stars
Heading into the match I felt Newcastle had everything to prove, Melbourne had once again claimed some silverware a week back & on home ice the North Stars wanted to show who is boss north of the border. They did just that in a crushing victory.

Their streak now extends to double figures, 10 games on the trot as they stand alone as the main figure in the AIHL as we head towards the pointy end of the season.

Apart from the play between the defenders & forwards one of the areas I mentioned during the week was the importance of goaltender Olivier Martin for this match, but it wasn't only Martin getting recognition for his on ice actions, Ice goalie Phillips was as well. 

A scoreline of 5-1 shouldn't take away from some terrific work by the goaltender on the night (3rd period note worthy), things might have looked different if a decision had of gone the way of Phillips at the end of the 2nd period. Controversy arose as the Melbourne side believed time had run out before the puck crossed the line, which was mentioned by the Ice via twitter.

The goal would stand & Newcastle would eventually walk away deserved winners after a solid team display which saw David Upton pick up two goals on the night. Is Newcastle now the team to beat after such an emphatic win?

Another area worth noting is the PIMs Melbourne Ice seem to be building recently, is it a much larger issue that they need to address? Heading to the box might not be an issue against teams ranked below them & ones they have the measure over, but it might be a cause for concern once we reach AIHL Playoffs. It played a factor over the weekends matches as well as the Champions League the week before, it's an interesting discussion point certainly.

The other big news story over the match days was the results in both Perth & Melbourne, the Sydney Bears picked up two wins over the weekend & now stand alone, alone in terms of being the first team to accomplish this road trip with a 100% winning record. The two wins (6-4 v Thunder, 2-1 v Mustangs) gives the Bears a sniff at second spot in the Bauer Conference, it's only a sniff at the moment as I feel a lot of other results will need to go the Bears way for them to make the jump, if anything it has given them & their loyal fans hope.

What makes the back to back wins more exciting is the loss which the Ice Dogs endured on Sunday afternoon, this means the two crosstown rivals will battle it out for that important second spot in the conference & sets up this Saturday's Sydney derby nicely. Will the Bears grab 3 in a row, or will the Ice Dogs bounce back?

Photo: Paul Kelly - Shutter Speed Designs
With Perth going down to the Bears at home where does it leave them in the playoff picture? Most predicted the Thunder to be a team which would be vying for that second playoff spot as we entered the second half of the season, now things are starting to look a little different. They have a VERY tough fixture ahead for them which includes Newcastle (home), Mustangs & Ice away in Melbourne, three games which will definitely test the new franchise. 

North Stars & Ice are the benchmark teams in the AIHL, Mustangs coming off a coaching change & the loss to the Bears couldn't have come at the wrong time for the team out west. How vital will the games in hand now prove? I could see the Thunder coming out of the next 3 fixtures 1-2, but it could well be 0-3 if they don't bring their A game against the Mustangs who will be looking to finish off the season strong.

Gold Coast & Canberra also battled it out in the late fixture up in Brisbane Saturday night, the Blue Tongues picked up an important victory, 5-1 the final score, which sets them up well for the weeks break this round. They then face the Knights & Ice Dogs away respectively, two winnable games which could relaunch the clubs fading playoff hopes. With a lack of depth being the common theme among the twitter world as to why the Tongues won't make a playoff run, finish off the month of July with 3 wins in a row & the 'friendlier' August fixture could put those predictions to the back burner.

Canberra continue to slip this season, having gone 1-9 in the last 10 games things are definitely shaky in the nations capital. With things not looking any easier for the remainder of the month, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Sydney (Bears) & Newcastle is the fixture ahead for the Knights, some gritty hockey to grind out results is what is needed for the Canberra side starting with the Adrenaline at home this Saturday. Pride in the jersey is what's at stake now.

The only other team which played over the weekend was the Melbourne Mustangs, straight from the get go things looked a little different. Some people knew, some people didn't, but Bill Wilkinson was no longer the Mustangs coach (later confirmed by Hewitt Sports). An interesting decision by the Mustangs & one which saddens me, I had the pleasure of meeting Bill & have the utmost respect for him. Coming into the AIHL late in the Mustangs pre season was never going to be an easy transition for any coach in their first season, inconsistent results would eventually be the downfall of Wilkinson, although the agreement was on mutual grounds. 

Where to from here for the Mustangs? They have once again given Steve Laforet the opportunity to take over at the helm of the club. We all know the team is on the younger side with the average age roughly around 22 years old, it was always a work in progress. Going by fans comments from the game on Sunday afternoon it was a much improved performance from the Melbourne side, even in a loss, so the decision on the surface, might be the right one. One thing I do know with sporting teams is when a coach departs a club it usually sparks emotion & added energy into a team to perform above their own levels of skill. Mustangs fans will be hoping this isn't a one off scenario, and the level of play can continue to grow in an upward motion behind Laforet.

With the results from the weekend it has now sparked added interest across both divisions, talk of the Bears making a late playoff run in the Bauer Conference. Blue Tongues now back in the mix for the second place in the Easton & the Thunder looking to bounce back in three tough fixtures coming up. Things are starting to heat up right across the board in the AIHL, no better way to keep that going than the Melbourne & Sydney derbies this weekend.

By Andrew Macdougall

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Match Focus: Ice v North Stars

Melbourne Ice v Newcastle North Stars
July 14, Hunter Ice Skating Stadium - 5:00pm

This weekend in the AIHL we see a clash which has been earmarked as a must see for over a month now, it contains two of the heavyweights in the AIHL this season. Easton Conference leaders Melbourne Ice travel up north to face the Bauer leading Newcastle North Stars & if we used the AFL & NRL analogy, it would be a perfect Friday night blockbuster!

Both teams come into the game with terrific form, Newcastle slightly out doing their opponents on games won consecutively (9 in a row). While the Ice have their own little bragging rights as they head up to NSW, being the reigning Trans Tasman Champions after piping the North Stars on goal difference. In my view this just adds a little spice to what should already be a great contest.

Both teams have been on some what of a scoring massacre, in the last 5 games alone there have been 63 goals scored (34 Ice, 29 North Stars) between the two teams. I suppose that's what happens when the top 6 scorers from the league come from either the North Stars or Ice. It almost seems as though both teams have made a bet with each other "let's see how many goals we can score before we both meet next" which obviously isn't the case, but it does feel like a 'what ever you can do i can do better' type situation. Which brings me to my next thought.

Both teams hold several keys which puts them above the rest of the competition, one of them keys being goaltenders. With Newcastle putting all of their trust in Olivier Martin, who has played 12 games from a possible 13 available. His GA sits at 3.07 according to theaihl.com which is very much a reasonable percentage given the amount of ice time he has had. Flip over to the Ice and it's a different story, the Melbourne side have rotated goaltenders giving both Stu Denman & Dahlen Phillips enough ice time each. So far it has worked very well for the team & was a success once again on the weekend, as both Ice goalies put in solid shifts across the Champions League weekend. Having 2 of the top 3 goalies in the competition does give you that luxury I suppose.

Who will get the nod for the Ice this weekend? My gut feel is Stu Denman, but nothing is for certain.

It's not only a big game for Newcastle because of the form & league position both teams are in, it's also an important game as the Bauer Conference top position is still up for grabs. Sydney Ice Dogs are nipping at the heels of the North Stars, it's only 4 points separating the top two, both teams sitting on 13 games played means the result is crucial. Especially crucial with the Ice backing up on Sunday against the Ice Dogs, a win could mean the North Stars get a chance to skip ahead if the Ice can do the job against the Sydney outfit.

Could travel play a factor? In the league Newcastle have only traveled away once in the past month, while the Ice have played at home twice after enjoying a 5 game home run in May. I suspect that won't play a huge factor in the match, but it's something to think about. Newcastle traveling to Melbourne for the Trans Tasman competition could play into the Ice's hands.

With both teams conceding less than 15 goals each in the past 5 games it sets us up for a terrific battle of offense v defense, Baclig & Armstrong v Lawrance & Starke, or Bales & Boyer v Wilson & Graham, these are just a few of the quality players who will be out on the ice Saturday afternoon. Gets the mouth watering just thinking about the prospect of these top hockey players going head to head, it's fair to say I am envious of the local folk who are able to make the game. Hope you all turn out.

There isn't really much else I can say about the upcoming match, it should be a terrific game of top quality hockey, I sincerely hope it lives up the billing that it has been over the recent weeks. It's hard for me to even pick a winner out of this one, I think it's going to be a tight affair with defense & both goalies playing well. 

If i had to go with someone, North Stars 3-2 victors (for the sheer fact of home ice advantage).

Melbourne Ice

Last 5: WWWWW
Standings: 1st, Easton Conference

Newcastle North Stars

Last 5: WWWWW
Standings: 1st, Bauer Conference

Key Player: Olivier Martin (SV% .878, W9, L3) - It was very difficult for me to pick a key player this weekend, with so many quality players on the ice. I have gone with Newcastle goalie Olivier Martin as i think he will need to play a vital role in the game for the North Stars, Newcastle will be looking for a solid shift from their main man between the pipes, he will need to keep the side organised & being vocal will also be a must for Martin. Martin with the best save percentage in the Trans Tasman Champions League, will be hoping to continue that form this weekend.

By Andrew Macdougall

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

TTCL Wrap Up

So the Trans Tasman Champions League was wrapped up Sunday night after two days of fun filled hockey, which gave us a few surprises as well as the more common thing people have become accustomed to, the Ice winning more trophies.

Wrapping up day 1 of the tournament things didn't really look good for either team from New Zealand, outplayed for majority of their matches both sides needed to get back to basics. Not only were NZIHL fans hoping for a better showing on day 2, myself like many other AIHL supporters were looking for some good competitive hockey by the teams from across the ditch. We got half there i suppose.

The Southern Stampede would be bitterly disappointed on their performances across the weekend, i am not sure how the club travels during the NZIHL schedule, but i suspect it was a below par performance. A total of 23 goals across two games being let in, not only is it not acceptable, but disgraceful at the same time. Solid performances from Player of the Match receivers Joel Cleroux & Connor Harrison can't cover up the poor results across the weekend, heading back to New Zealand the club will be looking for anything to try & kick start their NZIHL season as they currently sit 2nd last. I don't know if it was jet lag or other circumstances not at hand, but traveling across the Tasman was something they would rather forget.

Newcastle got what they set out to do, not only win the match against the Stampede, but win with enough goals to force the Melbourne Ice to chase victory. Beau Taylor put in a Player of the Match performance in game 2 against the Stampede which seen the Bauer leaders win 11-3, so the equation for the Ice was simple, win by 2 goals and the cup is yours. Simple right? the Botany Swarm had other ideas.

A job well done for the North Stars, 2 wins from 2 & it was all they could do as they waited for the final game of the tournament to be played. Their class & organisation was just too much for the traveling NZIHL teams, something which seemed to hold stead across both match days. Their form was carried right through from the AIHL to the TTCL, a little slow to start off with i thought in game 1, but they were in full flight by Sunday afternoon. Congrats to the Newcastle boys on a superb TTCL campaign.

So the Ice had to win by 2 goals, going by day 1 it looked pretty simple. That was until the clock ticked over to 7:30pm.

In a match that had everything the Botany Swarm looked like a team which had won the past 2 NZIHL titles, for 2 periods & 10 minutes or so the Swarm threw everything they had at the Ice, yet fell agonisingly short. Even early penalties couldn't sway a focused Botany team, they were pumped & in a surprise so was the crowd, with plenty of voice from the traveling Botany fans (or perhaps fans cheering for anything but an Ice win).

As a favourite son went down (Joshua Hay) their tails went up, and the Swarm running on emotion & adrenaline took the lead heading into the first intermission. Sitting there pondering the first period i couldn't help but think the Ice weren't being physical enough, i know Hay was taken from the game, but generally it wasn't a constant thing from the Ice. I don't know if they could read my mind from the front row glass section of bay 1, but the Ice came out a much more aggressive unit in the second period.

End to end hockey was on display, Ice were hitting harder & taking penalties in their stride. The crowd was getting restless as player after player (sometimes the same) on the Ice roster headed for the box, being a neutral to the game, i actually felt it was a ploy by the Ice coaching staff. "Hit them hard & hit them often" is something i would have drilled into the lads at the intermission, something i thought was more true as the game went on. I thought the Swarm definitely had the Ice rattled for periods of the game, but i also felt the Ice controlled a lot of it. Weird? surely it makes sense.

Right or wrong call the Ice fans weren't happy & weren't going to take it lying down. By now the noise levels throughout the Icehouse had risen, the Ice wanted this win & weren't going to let any ref stand in their way. Got to love the passion for their team.

And one man, or should i say mountain, was having his say on the match as well. That man was Zak Nothling.

I had heard about this guy via tweets from various individuals who are involved with either the AIHL or NZIHL, he definitely didn't disappoint. 

After you get past the initial size of the guy, the New Zealand native can actually goaltend, and goaltend well. Across both days of the TTCL Nothling was a constant thorn in both AIHL teams sides, the GA% i feel is not a clear reflection on the weekend the Swarm goaltender had, without his superb play between the pipes things would have been a lot worse. Hats off to Zak Nothling, for me it was a joy to watch one of the superb goalies from the NZIHL.

Eventually the big hits & class play of the Ice shone through, they were just the better team, not only day 2 but back on day 1 as well. Every hurdle they had thrown at them they were able to overcome, the sign of a true established & well drilled championship calibre team. The final result was a 8-5 victory to the Melbourne Ice, 5-5 after two periods showed how tight the match was. Heavy hitting from the much larger Ice took it's toll as the Swarm slowed down, 3 final period goals was enough to give the Ice a Champions League victory on home soil.

So for the Ice they are the first winners of the Trans Tasman Champions League trophy, something which can be added to the ever growing cabinet. For Newcastle it's a case of deja vu, finishing second once again behind the Melbourne Ice & losing out on another trophy. It does set up the AIHL for a mouth watering fixture this weekend, where the Bauer & Easton heavyweights collide in what be a ripping game of hockey.

For the Stampede it's a case of lesson learnt, they have now felt the full force of the AIHL top dogs & fell well short, back to basics & now refocus on the NZIHL. The Swarm have something to build on, their season so far in the NZIHL has been less than glamorous. The form showed in game 4 against the Ice will no doubt be a building block, something they will be hoping can be carried into the remainder of the season.

Overall it was such an enjoyable weekend of hockey, i don't think i heard one bad thing across the two days. Hats off must go to everyone across the AIHL, NZIHL & in between for getting this tournament up & running, something i hope (and feel) will become a big part of the southern hemisphere hockey fixture.

Players of the Match for the final two games were.

Game 3: Connor Harrison (Southern), Beau Taylor (Newcastle)
Game 4: Richard Idoine (Botany), Lliam Webster (Melbourne)

By Andrew Macdougall