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Chowder Down Under: Introducing...the Melbourne Mustangs

It's time to get to know the first of the two teams we'll be following this season in the Australian Ice Hockey League. Chowder community - meet the team we're following from Boston's sister city, the Melbourne Mustangs.

Melbourne.

Australia's second-biggest city, capital of the state of Victoria, twin city to Boston, and one of the economic powerhouses of the Southern Hemisphere, home to four of Australia's six largest companies.

It's been voted the world's most liveable city, and is one of the most famous in Australia. Like Boston, it's built around a massive harbour and river (Port Philip and the Yarra River), in south-eastern Australia, on the shores of the Pacific.

It's quite impressive to look at, too. Look.

Panorama of Melbourne, via Wikipedia

Sports-wise, Melbourne hosted the Summer Olympics in 1956, is the home of Australian Rules Football, one of the most famous cricketing temples in the world and largest sports stadium in the Southern Hemisphere (the MCG), the Australian Grand Prix and the Australian Open (one of tennis' four Grand Slam tournaments), as well as any number of sports teams in any sport you could imagine, from baseball to rowing.

Among those teams are two ice-hockey teams, the Ice and the Mustangs. The Ice are the "traditional" powerhouses of the two, and also like to claim they're Melbourne's "true" team, formed in 2002 while the Mustangs "only" came into being in 2010 and were only allowed to use the city's name from 2012 on. The Ice are so far the more successful of the two teams, but the Melbourne Derby is one of the most viciously contested rivalries in Australia. Think Habs-Bruins with an Australian accent.

We, of course, picked the Mustangs. So here is all you need to know about them this season.

GENERAL INFO

The Mustangs were formed in 2010 and began officially competing in the AIHL in 2011. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first three AIHL seasons they took part in...then they won the Goodall Cup in their fourth season, in their home arena. Known as Mustangs IHC until 2012, they contain many players to this day who were "original" Mustangs or joined the team in their earliest two years, including all-time points leader Jamie Bourke and last year's captain Sean Jones. New Hampshire's Patrick O'Kane leads the team in goals, with Andrew Belic, another current Mustang, leading the team in appearances.

They are currently coached by Michael Flaherty, a Mustangs legend, assisted by two of Australia's most well-known ex-players, Jon Moses and Damien Holland (who was touted for a time as Australia's first potential NHL player when he spent time with the Chicago Blackhawks rookie camp in the 80's), who replace the retiring Brad Vigon this season.

HOME ARENA: OBG ARENA, MELBOURNE

The Ice and the Mustangs share a home arena, which must make for some interesting moments when arriving for practice-imagine Montreal and Boston sharing a rink. The O'Brien Group Arena, formerly the Icehouse, is also the home of the Australian national team, the Australian Winter Sports Institute as well as the vast majority of Goodall Cup Finals (which are played at a single venue in the AIHL over one weekend in a manner similar to the NCAA Frozen Four).

It holds 1100 people, and looks like this:

ROSTER

AIHL rosters are allowed six non-Australian players, of which only four can dress for any one game. These will appear in bold in the lists

NETMINDERS

Chris Slauenwhite, Fraser Carson, Jack Hayes

An all-Australian trio (though Slauenwhite was born in Newmarket, ON), the 'Stangs have a young group in net. Slauenwhite, at 24, is the oldest, with the other two being local junior products stepping up. Chris has played in Sweden, Adelaide and Canberra while also spending time playing in the UAE, and will likely see the majority of games this season.

DEFENSE

Michael McDowell, Jackson McCoy, James Isaacs, Mark Higgins, Damian Bright, Darcy Flanagan, David Foster, Charlie Moore, Mike McMahon, Phil Bakatsoulas, Steven Belic

The standouts of the defensive group are native Aussie Damian Bright, who's an "original" Mustang, Canadian James Isaacs (a strong two-way defenseman who Chowder's own Paul Wheeler knows EXTREMELY well due to him most recently spending time playing with the UK EIHL's Coventry Blaze and Dundee Stars after several years in the ECHL) and Wrentham, MA native Mark Higgins, who is described as an explosive offensive defenseman. Imports in the AIHL are expected to be big contributors, so expect to hear their names a lot. The Aussie contingent is a mix of experience in Bright, McDowell and McCoy and young local products making the step up from junior (junior development is very important in a league that relies a lot on domestic talent)

FORWARDS

Andrew Belic, Jamie Bourke, Luke Fisher, Sean Jones, Brendan McDowell, Patrick O'Kane, Ryan Ruddle, Tom Steven, Sam Stewart, Corey Stringer, Matt Stringer, Vadim Virjassov, Tom Voller.

The standout names here are Bourke (the Mustangs' all-time points leader), O'Kane (all-time goals leader and New Hampshire's finest) and Virjassov. Between the three of them they scored 56 goals in 28 games last season. O'Kane is a Mustangs fan favourite and AIHL star, Virjassov an Estonian-Australian skilled winger, and Bourke a superb all-around player and Aussie international. They're backed up by a very strong group in McDowell and Sean Jones, both Aussie internationals (McDowell had 12 goals in 28 games last season and Jones 10 points in 15 games) as well as the solid Belic brothers and a whole host of eager youngsters, among whom Matt Stringer is probably the one to watch most closely with 11 points in 27 games and a newly-minted Australian international.

The Mustangs have seen changes this offseason, and enter the year with a new coaching staff and vowing to make a challenge after a 2015 season the team themselves described as a "trophy hangover" and "disappointing". They've brought in some strong imports while keeping the best of what they already have. This is a squad that is fired up for the season.

And Chowder are fired up to follow them.