SCOC is following the Australian Ice Hockey League this summer, with "our" teams being the Melbourne Mustangs & Newcastle North Stars. We're keeping an eye on more than just our own teams, though....this is the first of a regular series to keep you updated with a team-by-team update of what's going on Down Under.
With the AIHL now getting fully into its stride after three weekends of action in the traditionally chaotic early season (sometimes, teams aren't quite fully-formed and rosters often see flux as players from overseas, particularly North America, finish their playoff runs before heading to the Southern Hemisphere) it's sometimes tricky to get too much of a handle on how the season will go. However, there's never any harm in being quick out the blocks. Here's how the season's gone so far, with teams being dealt with in order of current league position. (record is RW, RL, OTW, OTL)
1. MELBOURNE ICE (3-0-2-0)
There is a Melbourne team at the top of the pile in the early going, but unfortunately for us here at SCOC, they play in red, white and blue. The New Ice Age has seen the blue side of Melbourne start this season on a tear, winning all five games (although being pushed to OT in two). They lead the league in goals scored with 24, while only Perth have conceded less (6 to the Ice's 9). Ice veteran Jason Baclig and newcomer from Denmark Lasse Lassen lead the team in scoring with 11 points (5+6 and 4+7) respectively...the Ice shut out Chowder's own Mustangs on opening day and also snuck past Newcastle North Stars in a shootout last weekend. In Troy Davenport they have one of the hottest goalies in the league early, and will hope this momentum continues apace the to consolidate at the top.
2. CBR BRAVE (3-1-1-1)
It is certainly a brave new world in Canberra. Fired by the AIHL's record single-season score Geordie Wudrick and his compatriot Neal Prokop, along with a strong supporting cast, the Brave have already shown they mean business this year. Wudrick is scoring at a breakneck rate and Prokop even faster - they have 6+7 and 7+5 in 6 games. Aleksi Toivonen is solid in net and local stars the Kubara brothers are providing solid support. The Brave are good for 2nd in the AIHL just one point off the top under the AIHL's 3-2-1-0 scoring system. Certainly, they're full of fight this season and are chasing the Ice hard.
3. NEWCASTLE NORTH STARS (2-0-1-2)
As the Brave have Wudrick and Prokop, so the North Stars have Connor McLaughlin and Scott Swiston. Swiston in particular has started with creative fire, scoring 3+10 already, while McLaughlin has 6+5 as the Stars have gone 2-0-1-2 to start the season. Ex-ECHLer Brandon Wong is scoring at an incredible pace in his short visit to Australia-he has 10 pts in 3 games (4+6) since arriving at the beginning of May, but Stars coach Andrew Petrie will want more from his team as it settles with the arrival of full-time imports Brandon Greenside and Josh Harris in the near future from their SPHL PO run in Peoria.
4. PERTH THUNDER (2-1-0-1)
The Thunder are the meanest, tightest team in the league - they've only conceded 6 goals thanks to Thomas Heemskerk's heroics in net but have only scored 9 in their 2-0-1-1 season thus far, both wins over the Melbourne Mustangs and both losses to the Newcastle North Stars as they've played all four games so far at home. Ben Breault leads them offensively with 2+2, though New Zealander Andrew Cox leads in goals with three. The Thunder are the very definition of a battling team...they haven't scored many, but if early season trends are any indication, they won't let in many, either.
5. SYDNEY ICE DOGS (1-3-1-0)
The Dogs have started a little better than their Sydney rivals the Bears, but only a little. Their wins, one in regulation and one in a shootout, have both come over their neighbours, but they've also shipped goals, losing 9-1 to Newcastle alone. They have a strong former UK EIHL presence, with Canadians Kevin Harvey and Grant Toulmin and Great Britain international Paul Swindlehurst among the stars in the early going along with Aussie veteran David Dunwoodie. They've already improved on last year, when they weren't credited with a single win, too. However, the Battle of Sydney dominance is one of the positives they'll have to build on to start moving up the table.
6. SYDNEY BEARS (0-2-1-1)
The Bears have only won once so far this season, and that was in a shootout. ECHLer Geoff Irwin is unquestionably their top player so far with 7 points in 4 games, but behind him scoring is...somewhat lacking. The Bears' main concern is that so far they've never really looked massively competitive, although being victims of the incredibly fast-starting Brave twice may present a skewed picture. They'll want to get back into the running fast over the next few weeks, and most importantly restore some Bears pride after being beaten by the Ice Dogs in their two Battle Of Sydney meetings so far.
7. MELBOURNE MUSTANGS (1-4-0-0)
The Crazy Horses, one of the two teams SCoC chose and one of the most active in mobilising their fans, haven't given those same fans much to cheer about aside from a 7-1 home thumping of the Brave, a result that has proved to be the exception, not the rule so far. When this team is firing it's really firing, but inconsistency and other teams being able to avoid the #goaliejinx early means that the scoring efforts of Pat O'Kane, Vadim Virjassov and Jamie Bourke have mostly gone to waste so far. However, like the Bears, they will hope that this early season blip is a skewing of the picture and this team will be back to the heights of the 2014 Goodall Cup winners sooner rather than later.
8. ADELAIDE ADRENALINE (0-1-0-1)
The Adrenaline are, some would say, lucky to be on this list at all after offseason arena issues led to questions over whether they'd start the season at all. As it is, they've started late, with a baptism of fire against the on-fire Ice, but taking the league leaders to a shootout in a pulsating opening game certainly got the Adrenaline....well, flowing. This is something they'll hope to build on over the next few weeks as they try and make up for lost time, helped by Aussie star Wehebe Darge and import forward TJ Battani.
The AIHL is still very much at the beginning of the season's story, and it looks like it's only going to get more engrossing as the season continues. Keep following along with us, and go Stars and Mustangs!