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Brave extend three key contracts

Brave extend three key contracts

CBR Brave received a boost to their 2014 Australian Ice Hockey League finals aspirations as they were able to lock up three key players.

The trio of Stephen Blunden, Mathieu Ouellette and Petri Pitkanen signed on the dotted line to extend their contracts until the end of the season.

Currently in second spot on the standings with five games remaining the Brave were able to secure the top two points leaders in the competition and one of the best goaltenders in the AIHL.

Blunden and Ouellette sit first and second respectively on the AIHL points leader board, both currently on 57 points for the season, the extensions will continue Brave’s offensive firepower until seasons end.

The extension of Pitkanens contract looks to be most important with the Finnish goaltender ranked top two in the AIHL.

The first import to be signed by the Brave, Pitkanen has been impressive in his first season in the AIHL with a .906 SV% and a 2.87 GAA from 21 games played.

With rumour’s of an early return to their clubs in both France and Finland, Brave will now head into a possible finals campaign at full strength.

“Given the pressure under which the team roster was put together at the start of the season, we’ve been aware that some of our imports had commitments elsewhere from mid-August,”said the CBR Brave in a statement.

“Obviously the guys want to finish what they started with us here and we are very keen to keep the squad together until the end of the season.

“So we’re pleased to have been able to help facilitate that.”

With the Braves first season in the AIHL heading towards a maiden finals berth, they will be strengthened even further with the return of head coach Matti Louma to on-ice action.

A native of Finland himself, Louma, last suited up in the AIHL for the now defunct Canberra Knights during the 2013 season.

Louma’s last game in the AIHL would come against the Newcastle North Stars on August 17, 2013, he would finish the season tallying six points (2 goals, 4 assists) across 8 games played.

At 34-years-old Louma will be looking to improve the Brave’s second or third lines, lifting confidence and providing more experience and leadership on the ice.

With the trio of imports locked away for the remainder of the season and return of Louma to the ice, Brave are now set for a tilt at the 2014 Goodall Cup.

CBR Brave received a boost to their 2014 Australian Ice Hockey League finals aspirations as they were able to lock up three key players.

The trio of Stephen Blunden, Mathieu Ouellette and Petri Pitkanen signed on the dotted line to extend their contracts until the end of the season.

Currently in second spot on the standings with five games remaining the Brave were able to secure the top two points leaders in the competition and one of the best goaltenders in the AIHL.

Blunden and Ouellette sit first and second respectively on the AIHL points leader board, both currently on 57 points for the season, the extensions will continue Brave’s offensive firepower until seasons end.

The extension of Pitkanens contract looks to be most important with the Finnish goaltender ranked top two in the AIHL.

The first import to be signed by the Brave, Pitkanen has been impressive in his first season in the AIHL with a .906 SV% and a 2.87 GAA from 21 games played.

With rumour’s of an early return to their clubs in both France and Finland, Brave will now head into a possible finals campaign at full strength.

“Given the pressure under which the team roster was put together at the start of the season, we’ve been aware that some of our imports had commitments elsewhere from mid-August,”said the CBR Brave in a statement.

“Obviously the guys want to finish what they started with us here and we are very keen to keep the squad together until the end of the season.

“So we’re pleased to have been able to help facilitate that.”

With the Braves first season in the AIHL heading towards a maiden finals berth, they will be strengthened even further with the return of head coach Matti Louma to on-ice action.

A native of Finland himself, Louma, last suited up in the AIHL for the now defunct Canberra Knights during the 2013 season.

Louma’s last game in the AIHL would come against the Newcastle North Stars on August 17, 2013, he would finish the season tallying six points (2 goals, 4 assists) across 8 games played.

At 34-years-old Louma will be looking to improve the Brave’s second or third lines, lifting confidence and providing more experience and leadership on the ice.

With the trio of imports locked away for the remainder of the season and return of Louma to the ice, Brave are now set for a tilt at the 2014 Goodall Cup.

Inside the Locker Room: Sydney Bears General Manager Wayne Hellyer

The 2014 AIHL season is fast approaching, and teams are beginning to once again prepare for the year ahead. Hockey in Australia generally only has a cult following, and the league and teams are run by dedicated hardworking volunteers who have a passion for the sport.

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Photo: Peter Podlaha – Injected Ideas Photography.

As I grew up in Canada, hockey has always been a part of my culture as with most Canadians. It is a source of national pride as well as being a common passion we share. Most communities have an ice rink in very close proximity, and once winter sets in there are literally thousands of back yard rinks across the country. As well as any frozen body of water that is not snow covered.

However things in Australia are somewhat different. This is a sun-kissed country which lends itself to fair weather sports. AFL, NRL, Super 14, and Cricket will always be the dominate sports down under. Even soccer is still trying to gain a foothold around the country. Given all of the other choices, why would people decide to play or become involved with hockey? Well, if you are reading this you probably already know the answer to that question.

Wayne Hellyer is the GM of the Sydney Bears and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. From how he first became involved in hockey, to the duties of a GM in the AIHL, imports, and vision for the future of the Bears, Wayne has given some insight on what goes into running an AIHL club which I hope you will find interesting.

CS – How did you first get an interest in hockey? When did your involvement begin with the AIHL and Bears?

WH – I got an interest when my best friend and his brother from high school started to play.

I started in 1978 with the Lion’s Ice Hockey Club which was at Canterbury Ice Rink at the time. Between 1980-1982, the NSWIHA had decided to combine teams into one club per rink, as Macquarie and Blacktown Rinks were soon to open and preferred 1 club per rink. At that time, you had Prince Alfred Park (Central), Canterbury, Narrabeen, Newcastle and a small rink at Homebush. In 1982, I was leaving high school and applied for a job at Macquarie Ice Rink. I was involved from the start, when we had the first Macquarie Team.

CS – Can you explain to me what the duties of an AIHL General Manager are?

WH – I oversee everything, as not having a big committee, I need to make sure that things get done. We try and get the best possible Imports, liaising with Rink owners, ordering jerseys and equipment, making travel arrangements for the team. Meeting and maintaining sponsorship agreements and doing what ever is needed to make the experience for the players enjoyable.

CS –  It appears that this will be Vlad Rubes last season playing for the Bears. How will the Bears try and deal with the loss? Do you expect Rubes to continue to be part of the club in some capacity? Any plans for a Vlad Rubes night when he does hang em up?

WH – Vlady has been a great asset to the club, and it will be up to him to decide when to stop playing at AIHL level. Vlady has for many years been our player/coach, but has accepted to coach only this year. He still has the skill and experience to play, but to coach a team in the AIHL, it require’s a full time bench coach. Player/coach is not something we prefer, but in recent years, it was hard to find a coach at this level to be on the Bench. We have Steve Austin and Paul Shumak on the bench assisting, but overall it needs a head coach to put it all together, as when playing, your not getting a clear picture as you would do if on the bench full time. We also have a resourceful and experience Jeff Todd, which will help contribute with the coaching staff.

CS – Imports- What’s the Bears plan regarding imports for next season? Do you expect Tomas Landa and Slavomir Boris to be returning? I have a basic understanding of how the import rules work with the league. Could you elaborate a little as to how player contracts work? Are any players provided with incentives or form of payment? How are imports attracted to the league/clubs?

WH – I can confirm both Landa and Boris will be apart of the team for 2014.  Every year, Import’s are a unknown, as we go through many enquiries and emails to sort out who is able to play at this level, and who would fit the structure of the team. We do give preference for any returning Import to return for another season if the chance arises. We also use previous Import to scout for us and let us know if they have someone interested and can fill a position.

All teams are allowed 4 Imports to dress for any game, you can have 6 Imports on the roster, but at game time, only 4 can play. The reason to have up to 6, is for any injury or suspensions, which can happen. The Imports don’t get paid, as this is an non professional league, as no team would have the funds to cover all theirs costs. What we offer is assistance in finding accommodation and will cover the cost of player fees, registration, ITC Cards (International Transfer Cards) and will reimburse the cost of their plane ticket during the season. (half at start and half at completion of the season, so that they are here until the last game). The Contracts that all players sign, covers agreed terms and conditions of playing in the AIHL and for the club. This includes conduct on and off the ice.

CS – What is your vision for the club in the next few years, both on and off the ice?

WH – Our vision is to always be competitive and offer those who join the club something they can be proud of being apart of during playing or any association with the club.

Also to be in a better financial position, as the costs of running the team is not always covered by sponsorship and players still have to pay a team fee. I would like to eliminate this fee, but we need it in place as sponsorship, gate takings are not meeting our expenses. I am currently covering this shortfall, and hope that this is only a short term solution.

CS – Do you follow any hockey other than AIHL?

WH – Yes, I have a few favorite teams in the NHL, Calgary, Buffalo, NY Islanders and Detroit. My first training jersey was Buffalo, and Jacket Islanders. This was back in 1978, so only Calgary and Detroit became favorites later on.

CS- What’s your favorite hockey moment?

WH – I can say winning the Goodall Cup with the team and also back when Manager of the NSW team. Also had great moments when ANST Manager and being proud of the team when they played at every World Championships.

CS – Do you know who Don Cherry is? If yes, do you like him?

WH – I know Don, met him in Buffalo and seen him a few times while in Canada. I have several of his “Rock’Em Sock’Em” videos at home, and used to play them at Macquarie in the shopping centre to help promote our games. The league back then was called the NSW Superleague.

A big thank you to Wayne for being frank and open with his answers. Will see you all at the rink soon!

New York Islanders and Nassau Coliseum: A Final Goodbye

On Saturday, April 11th, the New York Islanders played their final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On April 25th, they played their last game ever at the Coliseum, a 3-1 playoff victory over the Washington Capitals. Largely considered one of the last “barns” in the National Hockey League, the Coliseum has been the Isles’ home since their inception in 1972.

For many around Nassau County, NY, life without the Islanders will be dreary following this season. Despite what the geography may say, Brooklyn is quite far from Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Back in October 2012, the Islanders announced their move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, following repeated attempts to remodel or replace Nassau Coliseum.

Once the lockout-shortened season started in January, the excitement started to rebuild itself at the Coliseum, as the Islanders made the playoffs and gave the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins a good challenge.

This season, the excitement was back in a big way at Nassau Coliseum, reminiscent of the Islanders’ Stanley Cup runs in the early 1980s.

This Islanders team and their fans brought the noise and buzz back to The Barn. However, the buzz was bittersweet for fans, as they know that next season will bring drastic changes to the franchise, and the fanbase.

Pat Lehrmann, 27, a diehard Islanders fan since he was a teenager, said he’s probably missed no more than 10 home games over the past few years. He said that the atmosphere this season has been loud and rowdy, compared to the last few losing seasons.

“The past few years, it’s been kind of dead,” Lehrmann said.

“The fans were frustrated, and weren’t really showing up. This year, with the singing of goaltender Jaroslav Halak, and trades for defensemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, the organization was building a winning team, and people started to come back. Almost every home game is very loud.”

Star Islanders forward John Tavares concurred with Lehrmann, telling ESPN.com’s Johnette Howard that the Barn is the loudest building he’s played in. Tavares also told Howard, “Leaving here is certainly going to be bittersweet. It’s going to be a different way of life for all of us in here, just like the fans. It’s been one way here for over 40 years. And I’m sure there’s going to be a breaking-in period once we do go. But I think things will be great in Brooklyn, too.”

It also doesn’t help that the Islanders were eliminated from the postseason in quite frustrating fashion, losing in seven games to the Washington Capitals. They didn’t even get to give Nassau Coliseum a proper sendoff, as the seventh game was in Washington.

Melissa Kelly, an Islanders fan since 1990, went to about half of the home games every season. She said that it will be strange to see her beloved Isles play their home games in a different arena.

“This has always been their home,” she said. “I really don’t know. I think it’s more sad than anything else.”

On the move to Brooklyn, Kelly said, “I’m obviously against it. I think Nassau Coliseum offers a lot to Long Islanders. It has certain things that Barclays Center won’t have, like the tailgating parties. Brooklyn won’t have that. There’s also the ramp that fans go to and greet players after the game. I don’t think Brooklyn will have that either. It’s going to change a lot of things.”

The tailgating culture has been a big part of the Islanders fanbase for a long time. Many other fan traditions will also die with the move to Brooklyn.

Another controversial part of the move is the appearance of Barclays Center for hockey. In preseason games at the arena, the left side of the ice had obstructed views, what looked like a garage door, and elevated, strange seats.Also, the jumbotron was not over center ice as it is supposed to be, but rather, over the left blue line.

They may fix this by the time meaningful hockey starts there in October, but if they don’t, it will look even worse for the Islanders.

As the season ends for the Isles, it’s time to truly say goodbye to Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders went out at home on a high note, and a loud note, as they won a thriller in the last game ever at the Barn. However, even before the playoffs, fans knew that the moment would be tough.

Kelly said before the playoffs started that she would get quite emotional when that final buzzer sounds.

“I think a lot of people will be a mess,” she said. “We love watching our Islanders. It’s going to be hard.”

Lehrmann also said before the playoffs started that the last game will be tough for him, and his passionate section-mates.

“We’ll be as loud as we usually are,” he said. “After the game, it’s going to be emotional. I expect to see a lot of people crying and angry. Probably some belligerent drunk people. When it comes down to it, there will be a lot of mixed emotions. People are happy that the team is getting a new home, but a lot of fans would rather be in Nassau than in Brooklyn.”

Blue Tongues a no show for 2014 AIHL season

Queensland will be without an Australian Ice Hockey League team for the 2014 season. The Gold Coast Blue Tongues have again failed to secure a suitable location to play home games. Blue Tongues General Manager and President, Dave Emblem, announced the news earlier this week.

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Photo: Pic by Wulos

The Blue Tongues were unable to compete in the 2013 competition due to lack of home ice and lost their location at Iceland Bundall late in the 2012 season after a disagreement with the rink’s ownership regarding the safety of ice conditions.

The Blue Tongues management group had been seeking investors, both local and international, for a Gold Coast-based ice facility that would house the Blue Tongues. The rink would also bring international competitions in hockey and ice skating and add an ice-based entertainment show to the Gold Coast’s attractions.

Though funding has not been secured in time for the 2014 season, the Blue Tongues still have until the 2015 season before their AIHL license is in question.

A move back to Brisbane, where the Blue Tongues played from 2005 to 2007, was considered, but there were no ice facilities in South East Queensland that were able to provide the Blue Tongues with ice time to host visiting teams for the season. Instead, Emblem and his team will continue looking for funding for the Gold Coast facility in hopes of keeping professional hockey in Queensland.

The Blue Tongues are hardly the first Gold Coast sports team to struggle to stay in the area. Ice hockey is still a niche sport in Australia, so it’s understandable the team is finding it difficult to stay in a city that has struggled even with top-tier sports such as rugby league and Australian Rules Football (AFL or Aussie Rules, colloquially).

The Gold Coast Titans now compete in the National Rugby League, but are not the first rugby league team to call the Gold Coast home. The success of the GC17 group and their targeted marketing plan brought AFL to the Gold Coast in the form of the Gold Coast Suns, but they are the only success story from of a long list of groups who have attempted to secure an AFL license.

The top-tier sports are not alone. The Gold Coast has turned over many professional sports teams in the last few decades. Some have remained, but stability is far from normal.

Gold Coast National Competition Teams

  • Rugby league – Gold Coast Chargers (New South Wales Rugby League as Gold Coast-Tweed Giants 1988-1989, as Gold Coast Seagulls 1990-1994, Australian Rugby League as Gold Coast Seagulls 1995, as Gold Coast Gladiators for 1995-1996 off-season, as Gold Coast Chargers 1996-1997, National Rugby League as Gold Coast Chargers 1998), Gold Coast Titans (National Rugby League 2007-present)
  • Australian Rules Football – Gold Coast Suns (Australian Football League, 2008-present. First AFL team despite lower-level Aussie Rules having a strong presence since 1961)
  • Rugby union – East Coast Aces (Australian Rugby Championship, 2007)
  • Basketball – Gold Coast Rollers (National Basketball League as Gold Coast Cougars 1990, as Gold Coast Rollers 1991-1996), Gold Coast Blaze (National Basketball League 2007-2012)
  • Baseball – Gold Coast Cougars (Australian Baseball League as Gold Coast Clippers 1989-1990, as Daikyo Dolphins 1990-1992, as Gold Coast Dolphins 1992-1993, as East Coast Cougars 1993-1995, as Gold Coast Cougars 1995-1999)
  • Soccer – Gold Coast United FC (A-League 2009-2012)

The Blue Tongues are in danger of joining the list of teams gone by. There is still another year before the Gold Coast team’s management and the Australian Ice Hockey League will need to reconsider their relationship. The first of many problems with keeping a team on the Gold Coast may be solved by finding investment capital and securing a venue.

Gold Coast City Council will not provide that funding, despite the strong business case presented by Dave Emblem and his team. Their recreational funds are no doubt focused on the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which Gold Coast locals are already dealing with in the form of never-ending roadworks to improve the city infrastructure to handle the large crowds. Funding will have to come from a private investor.

If the team is able to secure a venue and re-enter the competition, they can resume dealing with everything else that causes problems for professional sports teams on the Gold Coast.

Southern Stampede Take Thunder to Overtime

stampedeLet’s admit it: the first week of the NZIHL was not a great one for the Southern Stampede, as documented in my earlier post. The injury to star forward Matt Schneider and the double-header losses to the Canterbury Red Devils were not what the team or the fanbase had in mind for a great start to the season.

Fortunately the Stampede were able to prove that’s all in the past with their 4-3 victory over the visiting Dunedin Thunder on Saturday night. Despite how early we are in the NZIHL season, this game had a sense of importance to it. The Stampede had the opportunity to prove they were well and truly over Week 1. A loss here could start to paint the wrong kind of picture; nobody wants to be that team plagued by injuries, suspensions, and frustration so early in the year.

Despite the fact that forward Mike McRae was serving a one-game suspension for fisticuffs and roughing, the Stampede answered the call. Here are a few reasons why this victory was an important one for the Stampede camp:

The Stampede prove they can win without Mike McRae

Mike McRae is an important player for the Southern Stampede. How important, you ask? As of puck drop for yesterday’s game against the Thunder, McRae had scored every single goal on the Stampede’s stats sheet. That’s right. All of them.

McRae is a lot of things for the Stampede: he’s a big presence, a physical forward that creates space and scoring opportunities. Since coming to the Stampede from the Gold Coast Blue Tongues of the AIHL, he’s been a 2+ point per game player, currently hovering at 2.29.

The numbers speak for themselves, but McRae also has assets that don’t translate directly onto the scoreboard. He’s one of those players whose teammates just look more confident when he’s on the ice. He’s got enviable chemistry with his linemates, Matt Schneider in particular. Speaking of…

Matt Schneider not only played, he had a pretty good night

The hit that Schneider suffered against the Red Devils in Week 1 was the biggest scare of my NZIHL watching life. It looked bad. Things may have played out differently if the Stampede hadn’t had a bye in Week 2 of the season. Fortunately Schneider got an extra week to recover, and it shows.

In a league where he’s literally head and shoulders above a good majority of the players, it’s no surprise that Matt Schneider is a dominant player. There were moments when the Thunder were badly outplaying the Stampede in yesterday’s match, but Schneider chased the puck like a bloodhound on the hunt and it showed. He didn’t show any signs of post-injury jitters and ended up with a goal and an assist to his name. Also noteworthy was Schneider’s nearly 30 minutes of ice time.

We were just glad to see him out there.

The Stampede’s new imports are looking good

William Compton and Ryan Strayer, both of the USA, are playing their first NZIHL seasons this year. They both notched a goal in this win, which was a true team effort. Compton in particular has a much more physical game than his size would indicate. He’s a solid, speedy addition to the team. It’s great to see the new imports fitting into the Stampede’s lines well, considering the void left on their roster (and in our hearts) by the departure of Tommy Zizian, who played his last season with the NZIHL last year.

Just in case you were wondering if Bert Haines has still got it

You got your answer last night. The veteran Captain snatched up a loose puck in the defensive zone and drove it home unassisted for the overtime game winner, short-handed no less. That was a beauty of a shot to witness. There are some moments in hockey when you can just tell a goal is coming, and this was one of them. Haines took a split second to line up, rifled it home, and the sold-out crowd absolutely exploded.

Despite this only being the third game of the NZIHL season, this was a win the Stampede needed. There were moments when the momentum of the game seemed to shift entirely into the Thunder’s hands. A win like this will buoy the team when the two clubs square off and do it all again tonight.

Tonight’s rematch of Southern Stampede vs. Dunedin Thunder will be streamed on Stuff.co.nz, puck drop at 7:00PM.

Inside the Locker Room: In the kennel with Ice Dogs trio

The 2013 AIHL Finals weekend is almost upon us and fans and players alike are buzzing with excitement. The Sydney Ice Dogs are certainly a force to be reckoned with. Finishing the regular season on a triumphant note by taking out the minor premiership, heading into the finals on top of the ladder.

Bianca Musico was able to catch up with star players, Robert Malloy, Matt Puntureri and Paddy Ward and talk season highlights and the upcoming games, in what is guaranteed to be a thrilling weekend of ice hockey.

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Photo: Peter Podlaha – Injected Ideas Photography.

What has been your highlight of the season?

Malloy: The past month has been the highlight – our last Melbourne trip in particular. We knew that we needed to win each game in order to secure first place. There were a few games in which we were missing some key guys but we still found a way to win.

Puntureri: My favorite on ice moment was Brian Funes scoring to tie a shootout with the Melbourne Ice at home with “the move” in a 4-3 shootout win! Overall, it would be the boys growing as players and more importantly as people! We’ve all come a long way!

Ward: Winning the league and getting to visit different cities in Australia with a great bunch of teammates.

Who has been your toughest opponent throughout the year?

Puntureri: We certainly haven’t had any easy ones but Perth and Adelaide played very well against us!

Ward: We split our series against Newcastle and Perth but Melbourne Ice games were always very close also.

How does it feel going into the AIHL finals at the top of the ladder?

Malloy: It’s nice to know that we were the best team in the regular season – but it doesn’t mean anything in playoffs. With this format anything can happen – one little bounce could ruin our season. Personally, I would almost rather be the underdog. 

Puntureri: It’s a great honour to win a regular season title especially since it’s an organisation first, but we would prefer two wins this weekend!!

Ward: It’s a great confidence boost going to the playoffs as league champions but the playoffs are one off games so anyone can win on the night.

As a team you have had a strong season; do you think that gives you a good chance at winning the Goodall Cup?

Malloy: We have a great chance at winning the cup. By far the best chance I have seen since I have been on the team. We have played pretty consistently over the second half of the season – hopefully it carries over.

Puntureri: In a one game series I think it’s fair to say any team has a chance!! We have the goaltending to get the job done!

Ward: I think we have been a very hard team to beat this year and found ways to win even when we haven’t been playing our best so that gives us a good chance going into the finals weekend.

The Melbourne Ice has won the last three championships, how do you feel going into the first semi finals match against them?

Malloy: In order to be the best – we have to beat the best. They obviously know how to win games and championships. It doesn’t matter that they came in 4th place because they very easily could have been in any other position.

Puntureri:  Well it isn’t the match up you’d expect as a one seed, playing the 3 time champs in their home rink but it is a tremendous opportunity and challenge for us to end their streak! It would help with confidence going into Sunday!  

Ward: Melbourne [Ice] have been champions last three years and they will be hungry to defend their title especially playing at home. But we are determined to win and excited to play against Melbourne and it should be a great crowd.  

Say (hopefully) the Ice Dogs make the grand final, who would you prefer to go up against, Thunder or the North Stars?

Malloy: No preference

Puntureri: Well either way it will be a tough game but I think we’d prefer Newcastle! To be the best you want to beat the best! No offense to Perth because they are a fantastic team, but Newcastle and Melbourne have been the two best teams over the last few years!

Ward: We don’t really want to think about the Sunday game as we have to get past Melbourne first and to win the championship you have to beat who ever is put in front of you so doesn’t matter who we play.

What are your predictions for the outcome of the Thunder and North Stars game?

Malloy: North stars 5-3

Puntureri: It will be a lot of fun to watch! I’m gonna go 4-2 Newcastle with an empty netter in a very close, hard fought game!

Ward: Newcastle have been a very consistent team all year but Perth come into the finals after being on a strong run and will be playing with confidence.

Have there been any changes in game preparation for the finals or has it stayed similar to the regular season?

Malloy: Our approach has worked for us this year – so we aren’t going to fix something that isn’t broken

Puntureri: Well we’ve toned down the partying a little! But we have a very easygoing fun loving team so things are pretty similar to what they’ve been all year!

Ward: No changes leading up to the finals, you just try to prepare for every game the same but every player on both teams will be fired up for this weekend. And be willing to do anything for your team to give them a chance to win the Goodall Cup on Sunday.

Are you starting to feel the pressure of the finals? Has the team dynamic changed?

Malloy: I think it’s more excitement than pressure. This is the week we have been waiting for since this time last year.

Puntureri: No pressure!! This is the funnest part of the season! I like to pretend I’m 7 years old again before all the politics and business part of hockey got involved!

Ward: No the boys aren’t feeling the pressure as we have hit form at the right time of the year and we know we have the best goalie in the league and good depth throughout and believe in one another so we just stick together and keep playing the same systems Ronnie has given us. 

The issue of live streaming the games was a cause for concern among supporters and the league itself. What was your opinion on the issue?

Malloy: I strongly support the live stream. It’s awesome that my parents and friends can watch the games back home in Connecticut. It gives good exposure to the league as well.  I want to thank those who have volunteered with the live streams across the league so far this year.

Puntureri: I think like anything else in hockey or life, it is all a learning process. We have some trouble with that in North America as well!! We have the right leadership in place to continue to improve in all areas of the league!

Ward: I understand the leagues view that they want the fans to come watch the finals live as adds to the atmosphere but not every fan can make the trip to Melbourne and I’m sure players have friends and family all around Australia and other parts of the world who would love to watch the live stream.

The Ice Dogs have fought a hard season, and the fact they have come out minor premiers is a testament to their hard work. They show a keen determination on the ice and the tight network of teammates makes for a potent combination going into the semis on Saturday, August 7.

Bianca would like to thank the guys for taking the time out for this interview and also wish them the best of luck as they fight to bring the Goodall Cup to Sydney.

Melbourne Ice Take Third AWIHL Championship

The 2013 AWIHL final came down to the Melbourne Ice vs. Adelaide Adrenaline, as many had predicted.  Despite a loss at the hands of the Ice the day before, the results were by no means clear cut.  The Ice’s victory over the Adrenaline had been narrow, possibly due to a penalty ridden first period.  Both teams were in for an uphill battle for the Joan Mckowen cup, and neither was willing to give way.

2013 AWIHL

Photo: Pic by Wulos.

If either team could learn anything from the semi-final the day before, it was that the match could come down to who can stay out of the penalty box.

These teams were fairly evenly matched – Adelaide may have more depth, but Melbourne seemed better prepared – so power plays could prove costly.

The first period started with fast, physical but relatively clean hockey, at least compared to the parade of players to the penalty box from both sides the day before.

The Adrenaline were slower to find a rhythm but once they did, they managed to force the Ice into their own end.  Like the game before it, most of the first period consisted of deep offensive runs on both sides, but neither were able to find the back of the net.  Unfortunately their challenge to the Ice was derailed by a pair of minor penalties, giving the Ice nearly four straight minutes of power play. A tight penalty kill by the Adrenaline kept the Ice at bay.

However once back at full strength Ice opened the scoring first after fourteen minutes of play.  Another penalty kill for the adrenaline stalled their attempts to match the Ice, and the period ended with the Ice leading 1-0.

Frustration began to boil over in the second period, and it began to show in the play.  On both sides the physicality began to cross the line from clean to dangerous, and many minor penalties were handed out.  For the Adrenaline the minors seemed to come in twos, and they spent much of the period attempting to kill a three on five or three on four power play.

In brief period of five on five, Adelaide proved they were still a force as Andrea Steranko broke past the Ice’s defence to tie the game.  This time it was the Ice’s turn to have their scoring hampered by a minor penalty, and the period ended 1-1.

The start of the third proved what a force both teams could be at even strength, as both managed to score in the first half of the period.  First Frances McPhail took the lead back for the Ice, but the Adrenaline had their answer ready by a rush from Kirsty Venus.  Most of the period was a tense battle for possession as the score was locked 2-2.

Unfortunately for the Adrenaline frustration seemed to get the better of them, and after a series of heated exchanges, they found trying to kill a five on three yet again.  Even then they couldn’t pull themselves together.  After a scrum in front of Adelaide’s net, the tension came to a head on both sides Kirsty Venus became the third Adrenaline player in the box after punching Shona Green to the ice.

Having three players in the box added to Adelaide’s troubles as they faced let another lengthy three on five penalty kill. Unfortunately one of the penalty box attendants added to the confusion as they released an Adelaide player prematurely, and a stoppage in play was needed to sort it out.

After a brief meeting of the officials, play was resumed but Adelaide was still faced with a lengthy power play.

Despite being forced into their end for the penalty kill the Adrenaline managed to stifle Melbourne’s scoring chances for the most part.  However the Ice did eventually break through by a Nicole Tritter slap shot.  In the remaining minutes of the period they made several deep runs into Adelaide’s zone but a calm and collected Claudia Tom kept them out, deflecting several powerful shots including one square in the mask that had her shaking her head to reposition her helmet.

In being tied up keeping the ice out of their zone, the Adrenaline could not answer back and the game ended with a Melbourne Ice victory of 3-2.

As the 2013 Joan Mckowen cup champions, the Melbourne Ice have won their third AWIHL championship since the beginning of the AWIHL competition.  Despite falling in the standings, the Adelaide Adrenaline had a silver medal to celebrate, and a promise to come back stronger than ever in 2013.

Ice Hockey Australia announces 2013 World Championship Squad

Last week, Ice Hockey Australia announced the Mighty Roos Senior squad for the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Division II World Championships, to be held in April next year.

Australia is in Group A of this division, having been relegated after finishing 6th last year in the Division I Group B Championship last year.

might roos

Photo: Lukáš Bagjar

 

New South Wales is heavily represented in the 22 man squad, with 6 Sydney Ice Dogs (including Nathan Walker, currently playing for HC Vitkovice of the Czech Extraliga), 2 Newcastle North Stars and 1 player from the Sydney Bears being selected.

There are a mix of veterans and new faces selected, and Head Coach Vladimir Rubes is quoted on the IHA website as saying that “…all [players] having played in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL)…The standard of the AIHL combined with previous world championship experience and youth will be the team’s strength to carry us back to Division I and remain there in the long term.”

The team was selected through a series of tryouts, camps and training sessions, to ensure the best players available were selected.

Some notable faces in the Australian lineup for Sydney Ice Dogs fans are defencemen Tomas Manco and Brian Funes, and forwards Todd Stephenson, Scott Stephenson and Billy Cliff.

Cliff had a breakout season in the 2012 AIHL season, playing 23 games and accruing 17G and 29 points, as well as 72 PIMS – all personal best numbers of his career.

Ice Dogs president, Shane Rose said “This is a great result. The fact that 9 players from the Sydney Ice Dogs have been selected for national duties [3 Ice Dogs junior players – Cam Rose, Tyler Kubara and Alec Stephenson – have been selected for the Junior squad, playing in Serbia in January] shows the strength and depth of the club’s development programs”.

Ice Dogs coach Ron Kuprowsky was more succinct – “Brilliant”.

In Division II Group A, Australia will meet Belgium, Croatia, Iceland, Serbia and Spain. Games start April 7 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Stay tuned to On The Fly Hockey for live streaming details (if available).

Ice Hockey Australia Forms Women’s U18 National Team

Recently Ice Hockey Australia released a statement announcing the formation of the 2013 national women’s U18 team, the first ever for Australia.  The creation of this team and its associated training camps are a welcome addition to our current women’s development programs.ice hockey australia

The performance of the Australian women’s national team on the world stage is on the rise. They have worked their way from Division III to Division II Group A at the IIHF Women’ World Championships over the last ten years.

In the last two world championship tournaments they finished in the silver medal position.  Then in 2012 Australia saw its first Olympic medal in ice hockey when Sharnita Crompton finished 3rd in the skills competition at the junior winter Olympics.

In forming the U18 women’s program, Ice Hockey Australia has identified an important step to continuing the improvement of the women’s national team and the AWIHL. Targeting the development of young players is a crucial aspect of taking any program to the next level.

According to the press release by IHA, the training squad for the team was formed after a talent identification camp in September last year.  All registered girls between the ages of 12 and 18 in the country were invited and were put through testing of all aspects of skills required to be a competitive hockey player.

These annual camps also allow more opportunities for players too young for the national team and AWIHL teams to grow their skillset. By attending these camps specifically geared toward female players the girls are able to get an idea of what is required to be that elite level female player, and set goals accordingly.

A training squad was formed after the initial camp, and from that squad the U18 team was selected after a second camp from the 13th to the 19th of January. This selection is not the final team, five spots for skaters and two for goalies are still open. The final decision regarding these spots will be made in the near future after further monitoring of the progress of the rest of the squad.

Notable players on the team include the AWIHL Brisbane Goannas standout Tiffany Samain-Venning, and Katie Tihema of the Adelaide Adrenaline. South Australia is the most represented state on this squad, with six skaters on the team so far.

The team will be introduced to international competition through participation in regional youth tournaments. The intent is to qualify the team for the IIHF U18 world championships in the future, creating internationally experienced athletes to feed the women’s national team.

Inside the Locker Room: Gicu Oprea

The 2012 season was an important milestone for the Newcastle North Stars as they celebrated their tenth year as being part of the Australian Ice Hockey League.  It was also the season that Gicu Oprea, the last remaining player from that inaugural 2002 team, decided to call it a career.  In his ten year career as a player and a coach, Gicu has had a close up view of the growth of the AIHL and Australian ice hockey as a whole.  He catches up with Tegan McQualter to reflect on his experiences.

gicu oprea1

Photo: Pic by Wulos

1. What was your hockey background before coming to Australia?

I first stepped on the ice when I was 6, and have been skating ever since. Playing in Romania in my home town of Galati I played many years of junior hockey, winning numerous national championships.  I then moved on to play for the senior side and enjoyed the privilege of representing my country at different international competitions.  It was at that time that I got the idea that one day I would like to play in another country.

2. How did you come to play in the AIHL?

Initially I contacted the Sydney Bears through Wayne Hellier, in order to come to Australia to play with them.  Wayne said that all of their import players would be returning for the next season; however there would be a new team in Newcastle that was joining the league.  He put me in touch with Garry Dore and a few months later, in February 2002, I arrived in Newcastle as their first import and I’ve stayed here ever since.

3. You have been with the North Stars since 2002. How have the team and the league grown in the last 10 years?

The league has grown considerably since my arrival in Australia and I believe that this has been due to the numerous imports playing here. The imports are involved in developing the local young talent and this contributes to the ongoing growth of the sport of ice hockey.  Some of the imports also settle here, like myself, and help to create a definite base for the teams they are playing for.

4. How have you grown as a hockey player?

As a player you always grow, of course you need to work hard.  Working with different coaches, with different coaching philosophies has made me a better player.  Also being in a team that has fantastic imports willing to share their experiences is another way in which I consider that my skills were improved since coming to Australia.

5. What is your proudest moment as a North Star?

One of my fondest memories as a North Star is playing alongside so many of the young players who I’d coached over the years. Players such as Mathew Wentini, Sam Austin, Joshua Broekman, Hamish Powell, just to name a few.  It has given me such a sense of satisfaction and great pride to know that I have contributed to their development as valuable players and to see them achieving their aspirations of making their first team.

6. The North Stars have won more Goodall cups than any other AIHL team.  What is their secret?

There is no secret. The North Stars is a great organisation and they do their homework really well when it comes to recruiting imports.  The imports are a significant force when decisive games are played.  It all comes down to hard work and everyone contributing as individuals to achieve a common goal.

7. This year the North Stars had a strong season only to lose the Goodall cup grand final at home to the Melbourne Ice, giving them their third straight championship.  What makes the Ice such a dominant force?

The Melbourne Ice are a strong team with great character.  What has made them so dominant for the last few years is that they have great depth, probably just as much as the North Stars, however, the Ice seem to have an ability to fully utilise all of their players, their individual skills as well as their capability to communicate and work well together.  I believe that this is why the Ice is such a force to be reckoned with and why they keep winning!

8. What do you think 2013 holds for the Northstars?

It’s hard to say how 2013 might play out. All I can say is that I will be eagerly watching from the other side of the boards and hoping for some more of the success the North Stars enjoyed in previous years.

9. Over the years you have inspired a generation of hockey players , both as a player and a coach.  What would you say to any of our readers aiming for AIHL and beyond?

Aiming to play at the highest level in Australia requires a lot of hard work. Young local payers must work at least twice as much due to the arrival of the import contingent.  However, the players coming from overseas are a great asset to young payers for improving their skills and maybe penetrating into the senior team or Youth/Junior National Teams.  Discipline, keen interest and hard work, are just a few of the ingredients that could very well contribute to playing at the highest level.   I wish them good luck and all the best.

The author would like to thank Gicu Oprea for volunteering his time to be part of this interview