River Road Hockey S1 E2 — The Ice take on the visiting Sydney Ice Dogs, who rolled into town with a mission. And I got to meet new import defenseman Jeff Smith.
(I know we have been quiet for the last few months, but we have been busy building RRH Studios! A new and exciting way for you to get hockey opinions! You don’t even need to read!)
River Road Hockey S1 E1 – Discussing the changes to the Melbourne Ice for the 2014 season, and explaining why I have no idea how they will do this year.
I’ve said in the past on this site how much I enjoy weeknight games, and that certainly hasn’t changed. I’ve also told people that I can’t wait until the Ice and the Mustangs get to fight it out for the Goodall Cup – and of course for the Ice to win – as it proves that the hockey community in Melbourne is strong, and the development of players is second to none. I measure the strength of a league as the distance between the top teams and the worst teams – and considering last year the Mustangs finished last and we won the Goodall Cup, Ice vs Mustangs games become a benchmark for the strength of the league. So based on this game, that gap is pretty narrow – we can say we have a strong league, which can only be a good thing.
Yes, this is a Melbourne Ice fan site, but credit where it is due – the Mustangs have improved a lot in this season, and they are starting to find the rhythm they need to become successful.
It’s weird, y’know. Here in Melbourne, we are spoilt for choice with hockey at various levels. The Ice are three-time reigning AIHL champions, and the Women’s team have just secured their second Joan McKowen trophy in the AWIHL. We had the introduction of the Australian Junior Ice Hockey League, which was won by the Sydney Maple Leafs in a tense shoot-out over the Melbourne Red Wings. Add to that all of the state-league teams run by Ice Hockey Victoria, and it is a rare weekend I spend away from an ice rink.
(Re: the title of this post–my childhood was plagued by Scottish dance lessons and if I had to suffer, so do you.)
On Saturday and Sunday of this weekend, the Melbourne Ice played the Perth Thunder. The Thunder were missing some imports who hadn’t made it for the start of the season, and the Ice were missing national players Lliam Webster, Tommy Powell and Todd Graham, as well as primary goaltender Dahlen Phillips, who had a family commitment.
Increased commitments mean I quite often won’t be doing a full game write-up, but I do have thoughts about this weekend’s game.
The Melbourne Ice has had unprecedented success in the AIHL–no other team has won three consecutive Goodall cups. However, the team has no intention of resting on its laurels. The team is working hard to find the configuration that’s going to bring them further wins.
“Lines are yet to be finalised,” says Melbourne Ice President Emma Poynton. “Head coach Sandy Gardner has been playing the boys in a number of different line combinations to see who works well with who.”
The Ice is using the pre-season to determine which players have the best chemistry. “We still have time to mix and match players to see which line[s] work best together. Melbourne Ice also has a number of players still overseas who need to be factored in once they return as well.”
This is the first time in team history that the Ice will be playing without veteran goalie Stu Denman in the lineup, as he retired at the end of last season. Last year, three goalies were announced, though that number was later cut down to two. That’s not the case this season: all three goalies, including last year’s backup Dahlen Phillips, will be playing.
“Dahlen Phillips will be the starting goalie. It’s intended that all three goalies will have a start this season. It’s a long season and the Ice has twice a week on-ice training as well as dry land gym work. The depth of three goalies will be required.”
The Ice is also seeing some new faces this coming season. Their commitment to the Ice Academy and training and developing the next generation of players definitely reflects in the updated roster. “In the last two years, The Ice Academy has seen Austin McKenzie, Daniel Szalinski, Chris Wong, Paul Lazzarotto, Chris Fahy, Caleb Butler and Mitch Humphries all step up and be selected for the senior squad or senior squad reserve. [This proves] the time, energy and investment into these players is paying off for the Melbourne Ice and the development of skilled hockey players in Victoria.”
Along with the additions of Lazzarotto and Fahy to the senior squad, a familiar face has come back to the fold. Veteran Glen Mayer has come out of retirement. “Glen just loves his hockey and missed the action the Melbourne Ice provides. His children are a little older now which may have helped him find a few extra hours a week for his Melbourne Ice commitments.”
Apart from veteran imports Matt Armstrong and Jason Baclig, the Ice has chosen to bring in defensemen Chris Frank and John Gordon. Emma Poynton explained the choice: “Every team aims to have minimal goals against them. If you don’t let any goals in you have a better chance of winning the game! Two import D will definitely help keep our opponents score line down, in selecting 2 D-men this year we felt that we needed to strengthen up the back line as our local forward talent is (and has always been) very strong.”
Will the Ice be aiming for the 4Peat? “Of course we will be aiming for an awesome foursome 4peat.”