Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bauer Conference takes shape

Another weekend of AIHL action has been completed for season 2012, with both conferences getting more intense & interesting by the minute. Perth have made a run at the top teams in the Easton Conference with 4 consecutive wins, while the North Stars & Ice Dogs wrestle to become the top dog of the Bauer standings.

With so much happening around the league, i thought i would have a look at the Bauer Conference.

One of the big talking points from the weekend was the continued form of the Newcastle North Stars, Newcastle defeated the traveling Mustangs 7-2 & improved their winning run to 7 games. 7 goals in the first two periods saw off anything the Mustangs even thought about doing Saturday afternoon, with new goaltender Oliver Wren the Stangs looked to turn around their recent results & get a surprise road win against the Bauer leaders.

Newcastle with the more experienced team out shot the Mustangs 36-15 which forced a goalie change by the visitors. Brian Bales was once again involved in the scoring along with Kevin Day & Robert Starke, the win keeps Newcastle 1 point above the Sydney Ice Dogs at the top of the standings.

They will look to continue their red hot form this coming weekend as they play host to Canberra & travel away to face the Bears, two games that they will go into as well earned favourites.

With a lot of talk surrounding the North Stars as the team to beat this season in the Bauer Conference, the Sydney Ice Dogs have slowly but surely worked their way into form. Their record now sits at 7 wins from the last 9 games, with two tough fixtures coming up this weekend after another successful round of matches.

Two back to back wins against Sydney rivals Bears, and the Melbourne Mustangs has given them a big chance to try & take over that top spot in the conference. Not only did the Dogs play well, but it was a terrific weekend for Dogs import Casey Mignone. The leading Dogs points scorer picked up a Sydney derby hat trick, then finished off Sunday afternoon by getting on the board first in a tight 2-0 win over the Mustangs where James Herbert came away with a shutout.

Has it given the Dogs enough momentum heading into this weekend?

At least one win is needed from the upcoming fixtures for the Dogs, they travel to Perth on Saturday to face the Thunder who have rocketed up the Easton Conference standings & then head down to Melbourne where the in form Ice will  be waiting. Things couldn't get much harder for the Bauer title contenders, it's a road trip which will show championship character & if they are the real deal heading towards the back end of 2012.

The North Stars & Ice Dogs don't face each other until the start of August, so every fixture in between is vital for both teams. Considering the timing of the match up it could have massive implications on the Bauer Conference, with the match just over a month away. Is the Bauer Conference only a two horse race?

The other two teams in the Bauer Conference are of course the Sydney Bears & Canberra Knights, both teams having problems getting any form on the board.

Bears continue to struggle with consistency, and with the fairly young team that they have & it is a common thing to expect with young teams in any sport until they can string games together. It's not as though the Bears are never in a match, they do push teams to earn their victories. Going down by 2 goals against the Ice Dogs & pushing the reigning champions Ice all way through until the third period, where 4 goals crushed the Bears in a game they had fought hard throughout.

Canberra like the Bears continue to struggle for form, having won just 1 game from their past 8 matches things don't look good. Hosting the Melbourne Ice things didn't get off to a perfect start, 4 Ice goals in the first period had the Knights playing catch up straight away. Not even a Chris McPhail hat trick could turn around the Knights fortunes, as they head to Newcastle to face the North Stars this weekend. 

With things looking bleak for the Canberra outfit, the returning Mike Brown in goals will give a much needed boost to the team. Will it be enough to get them over the line with a victory? Well we can only wait & see.

The Bauer Conference at this stage looks to be a two horse race, with the North Stars & Ice Dogs sitting first & second respectively in the standings. With two months of hockey still to play things can change for the third placed Knights & last placed Bears, but the signs are looking ominous.

Can the Knights & Bears make a late run? 

Or will the August 4 fixture between the North Stars & Ice Dogs be the decider of who is the top dog in the Bauer Conference for 2012?

By Andrew Macdougall

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