With one minute left in the match the Pelicans were losing 6-4. They scored two goals in 20 seconds to tie the game and send it into overtime at 6-6.
However, it was the greatest comeback that never was, with the Wolf Pack scoring the golden goal overtime winner with ONE SECOND left in the match (before it was forced into a shootout).
With such a fantastic end to the season, I believe it is appropriate to wrap the season up by listing ‘five reasons why the AJIHL is awesome.’
- Development of local talent: Ask any fan of the AIHL and they will tell you this is the most important part. As fans of the game of hockey in Australia, we want to see our own talent playing at the highest level, and catching them between the age of 16-20 years of age is the best way. A classic example is Austin McKenzie, who played at a very high standard in AJIHL for the Melbourne Whalers and is now a solid point scorer at AIHL level with the Melbourne Ice and has a bright future in the league.
- Players with international experience: Quite a few of the top players in the league have gone to North America to develop their skills through top junior level academy programs and coaching. For example; Jamie Woodman, Alastair Punler and Tomek Sak of the Perth Sharks have played for the ‘Banff Academy Bears’ in the Heritage Junior Hockey League (HJHL). They have then come back to the AJIHL as more well-rounded, skillful player and AIHL ready players.
- Fans get to see local talent before they hit the big leagues: Ever looked at a player at any level of hockey and said to someone “I watched him when he was a junior”. It’s a good feeling getting to see the top level of junior local talent and watch them move on to bigger leagues. Imagine you had seen Nathan Walker playing one of his few games for the Sydney Ice Dogs and in a year or so you get to see him suit up in the NHL? Well, you can do that with the AJIHL. Lots of players make the jump to AIHL after their junior years, and you can see them grow.
- Players in the league meet other players they wouldn’t otherwise have known: Talking briefly to Perth Thunder rookie and Perth Sharks AJIHL captain Jamie Woodman, he said that from a players perspective the best part was the chance to meet players he wouldn’t have met otherwise. Woodman said “going into the Sharks this year I only knew Tomek (Sak) and Mark (McCann), but they were a great bunch to meet which was awesome.”
- Players are given the opportunity to travel with their team: The best way for a team to grow is by forcing players to hang out with players they wouldn’t usually hang out with. NBA basketball coach Gregg Popovich makes his players watch political debates together, and have dinner with players who wouldn’t usually be their friend, and it works! Now I know the AJIHL is not as extreme as that, but when you have a group of developing young players travelling together and they all have one focus; to develop their hockey skills and win the match, it is perfect.
Concluding the season, the AJIHL has been a huge success this year.
The league still has a lot to work on, namely sorting out the @AJIHL Twitter handle and posting their first update in nearly two years.
Whilst the league is doing a great job in developing talent, social media plays a very important role in drawing crowds and getting fans involved. But all in all, the AJIHL has been a great success, and will continue to be next season, and in seasons to come.