Date: July 20 2012
The documentary team tracking the Melbourne Ice team has hit paydirt. Only half-way through the AIHL season, they already have enough dramatic material to supply a hungry TV station for months.
Here’s a few of the highlights of Melbourne Ice’s 10th anniversary season that the filmmakers will have to sort through:
Ice levelled its first league game, a local derby against in front of a packed house, with six seconds to go, and won in the shootout; beat Adelaide on the road in overtime; they had a 30-game home ice streak broken by a shock shutout; shot to the top of the standings despite losing captain Vinnie Hughes to suspension in a violent fight that left blood on the ice; won the inaugural Trans-Tasman Championship, gaining exposure internationally in the hockey world; and continued negotiations intended to forge a link with an NHL franchise.
Then came last weekend’s trip to New South Wales.
With Easton Conference leader Ice pitted for the first time this season against Bauer Conference leader Newcastle North Stars, and tackling second-placed Sydney Ice Dogs for the first time on the road, it was billed as the weekend that would define title favouritism.
Ice’s two performances on the ice, a 1-5 loss to the red-hot Newcastle North Stars, and a 4-3 win over the Dogs, should have left the North Stars as the pundit’s current pick to take out the league, particularly as the finals are played on their home at the Hunter Ice Skating Stadium.
But the most dramatic events of the weekend certainly did not involve goals and assists.
Saturday’s match against Newcastle was something of an anti-climax, with a "flat" Melbourne Ice failing to get to grips with the differing ice conditions, their efficient and well organised opponent capitalizing on their chances. Down by two goals within five minutes, Ice dragged one back via Joey Hughes with 6.21 left in the second period and the expected titanic struggle looked imminent.
Instead penalties cost the visitors a 3 on 5 powerplay during which they understandably leaked two goals, the last making the score 1-4 with one second to play. Another goal in the last minute of the game blew the score out to 1-5, the worst scoreline of Ice’s season.
Melbourne Ice President Andy Lamrock said Newcastle outskated his team, were "clinical and well disciplined", but his team would bounce back as it had when beaten by Gold Coast earlier in the season.
"We know what we need to do now and we know what we're up for."
He couldn't have known what would follow his team's defeat on Saturday.
The drama began in the post-game handshakes, which stoic reigning league MVP Jason Baclig performed with his left hand. It became obvious that a finger on his right hand, injured during the previous weekend’s Trans-Tasman Champions League tournament, had become infected. Badly infected. With the assistance of Newcastle North Stars coach Gary Dore, Baclig eventually found the urgent care he needed to avoid a tragic outcome. His hand had a narrow escape and he will recover fully but miss at least two or three weeks of hockey.
While Baclig recovered from surgery, his teammates took on the Ice Dogs, who they creamed 9-1 at the Icehouse two weeks ago. The Dogs, back to full strength and proud of their physical reputation on home ice, were aggressive from the outset, Ice ace Matt Armstrong being knocked out in the opening minutes. The tension, sledging, niggle and penalties continued, until it all exploded with the score 3-3 with ten minutes left in the third period.
As is often the case with such violent incidents, there are differing versions of what Lamrock described as a "horrible" incident. Hewitt Sport Network’s Andrew McMurtry described it as "pure insanity" and felt forward Joey Hughes, who had scored all three Ice goals, had been "seemingly trying to take on the whole Ice Dogs bench". Lamrock says that Hughes was dragged over the boards by several ice Dogs, which prompted several teammates to leave the bench in order to save him from a beating. Once the incensed Hughes was pulled clear, he went back for "retribution."
What isn’t at issue is that the brawl has cost Hughes a minimum of five matches suspension, with a tribunal hearing to come; Ice Dog Brian Fumes has been suspended for two matches, with a tribunbal hearing to come; and Ice coach Paul Watson is also suspended for three matches, with four games suspended, due to his players leaving the bench.
And the crucial evidence used to untangle the long list of offences?
Footage from the Ice’s documentary crew, who were faithfully recording the entire fracas.
Ice will meet local rivals the Melbourne Mustangs without two of their star forwards, so will be looking to their much vaunted depth to counter their local rivals.
The young Mustangs tried hard at the Icehouse last Sunday under new (old) coach Steve Laforet after parting ways with Bill Wilkinson, but were unable to budge the Sydney Bears, who held on to a 2-1 lead from three minutes into the second period. Goal scoring is the problem for the Mustangs, who have scored the fewest goals in the competition, and have no individual with more than six goals. The ‘Stangs haven’t score more than four goals in regulation time since that first game of the season against the Ice.
Their best is good - they beat Adelaide 3-2 on the road the day after being beaten 0-10. They are inexperienced, but talented, and an undermanned arch-rival could prove just the prey they need to reboot their erratic season.
The Bears continued their improvement with a superb road double. The win over the Mustangs came the day after they travelled to Perth and beat the Thunder 6-4. After a string of heartbreaking losses despite strong performances, they are finally getting reward for effort, and turning up the heat on the Ice Dogs in Bauer Conference, who they meet this weekend. In Perth on Saturday, the Bears led 4-2 after a period, and 5-3 after two. Perth scored within a minute of the resumption to wrench back a one-goal margin, but a powerplay goal to Craig Gallow with 12 minutes remaining restored a two-goal advantage they maintained for the rest for the match.
The Gold Coast Blue Tongues won their first game at Brisbane since being forced to relocate due to problems at their Bundall home, scoring the first four goals of their 5-1 triumph over the Canberra Knights. It was also their first win a month, since an impressive 6-1 dismissal of the Mustangs in Melbourne.
Import James Sanford scored four of their goals, including an empty netter with 0.01 left in the final period.
The Blue Tongues have tried to make a virtue of the necessity of playing games over an hour away in Brisbane, establishing a discount Blue Tongue Tour Bus for Gold Coast based fans, with dinner and drinks at the Surfers RSL with players in attendance, and a post-game venue. I wonder how many fans take up the offer of “2am - Melbas!!!!!!! ....for those wanting to kick on!!” There’s some footage that Ice’s doco team might have been interested in. Alas, their next meeting with Gold Coast is at the Icehouse in August.
* The assistance offered Jason Baclig wasn’t the only co-operation between title rivals Melbourne ice and Newcastle North Stars last weekend. James Morgan from ATC Productions, who provide the well-received vision of Ice games at the Icehouse, travelled to Newcastle to help the locals set up their first live web feed of a game. The league hopes to eventually ensure live audio and visual coverage of every game, which would be a boon for fans wishing to follow their team’s fortunes on the road.
In the case of the Ice/Ice Dogs clash, such footage might have to come with an R rating.
* The Melbourne Ice is celebrating its tenth anniversary with an even at the MCG July 27. For details: click here.
Saturday 14 July
Newcastle North Stars 5 v Melbourne Ice 1
Gold Coast Blue Tongues 5 v Canberra Knights 1
Perth Thunder 4 v Sydney Bears 6
Sunday 15 July
Sydney Ice Dogs 3 v Melbourne Ice 4
Melbourne Mustangs 1 v Sydney Bears 2
Saturday 21 July
Perth Thunder v Newcastle North Stars, Perth, 4.30pm
Melbourne Mustangs v Melbourne Ice, Icehouse Docklands, 5.00pm
Sydney Bears v Sydney Ice Dogs, Liverpool, 5.00pm
Canberra Knights v Adelaide Adrenaline, Canberra, 5.30pm
Sunday 22 July
Melbourne Mustangs v Newcastle North Stars, Icehouse Docklands, 3.30pm
Sydney Ice Dogs v Adelaide Adrenaline, 5.00pm
Sydney Bears v Canberra Knights, Baulkham Hills, 5.00pm
Australian Ice Hockey league at a glance:
- There are nine teams, playing in two conferences
- The top two teams from each conference make the sudden death finals on the first weekend in September, in Newcastle. The semi-finals are played on Saturday, with the grand final played the following day.
- Each team is allowed four imports, usually professionals from European or lesser North American leagues. The league is completely amateur, though imports are allowed to receive assistance to help with accommodation etc.
- Melbourne Ice has won the past two championships.
* Gold Coast will be playing the remainder of its home matches this season in Brisbane at the Acacia Ridge rink.
Full Standings - click here
Leading scorers - click here
Melbourne Ice (including live webcasts of Ice games) - click here
Melbourne Mustangs - click here
AIHL - click here
Melbourne Icehouse - click here
A crash course in hockey rules, courtesy Newcastle North Stars: click here
Hewitt Sports Network AIHL news - click here
For a great read on the voyage of a new hockey fan - Nick Place's hockey blog
River Road hockey blog - click here
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