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.
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.