Sunday, July 8, 2012

A look at day 1 of the TTCL

So game 1 & 2 of the Trans Tasman Champions League were completed yesterday afternoon/night. What did we learn?

For the Melbourne Ice it was another dominant display of hockey, pounding the Southern Stampede 12-2. In game 2 it was a feeling of hope, hoping the Botany Swarm were going to put up a better showing than their New Zealand counter part. Which they did.

Melbourne were dominant, to say the whole game would be taking away from the Stampede, but majority of the game they were chasing the Ice. If the teams from across the ditch didn't know what to expect from the AIHL clubs (in particular the Ice) they were soon to find out.

12-2 was the final scoreline & for me it was a fair reflection of the game, the Stampede just didn't do enough things right & for long enough. The physicality was there, but other areas lacked & individual brilliance from the Ice players was enough to break open the Stampede defense. Two goals of note came from Joey Hughes & Matt Armstrong, terrific puck control & superb finishing would have left anyone, fan or not, on their feet with a round of applause.

It was a good team performance once again from Melbourne. Along with the offensive performance came some important play from the back, in goal Denman put in a terrific shift, while the likes of Chris Wong & Todd Graham kept things in order at the back. 

With the 10 goal win it gives the Ice a terrific chance of taking out the TTCL, as goal difference might play a vital role after the completion of the 4 scheduled games.

One thing the Stampede learn't (if they didn't already know) is never sit back on your heels & allow the Ice to have time on the puck, things won't end well & they didn't. Melbourne picked apart the Stampede, moving the puck well & getting into dangerous positions. They were more organised both defensively & offensively, while the Stampede looked for a break away opportunity to score. They couldn't get anything going, they just seemed to lack something extra in attack. 

Or maybe it was just a lack of organistion? either way things didn't look good.
A hard lesson to learn getting beaten 12-2 to any side, so it's back to the drawing board for the Stampede. More pressure on the puck carrier, continue to forecheck & stayed organised, do these things and tomorrows match against the Newcastle North Stars will be a much tighter affair. For the Ice it was a job well done, rest up & look towards this afternoon, where another trophy could enter the cabinet (if there is enough room).

Game 2 on the other hand was a terrific game to watch, both teams competing well making every play count out on the ice. Botany looked good, they were ready to go straight from opening face off as they got into the face of the Newcastle team.

I was impressed with the work rate of the Swarm, they continued to crash the boards, forechecked/backchecked well & weren't afraid to hit the net. They were organised also, a vast contrast from game 1 & the Southern Stampede. In the end Newcastle proved to be too good, but they definitely walked away with the feeling of having played a hockey game.

With two goalies playing well it would take all both teams had in their arsenal to beat Martin (North Stars) or Nothling (Swarm) between the pipes, that extra class & finishing touch would fall Newcastle's way. Although they did have some help from the Swarm during the second period where two bad mistakes allowed Newcastle to open up the lead, you still need the composure to slot them home, something Newcastle were able to do.

The Swarm never gave in throughout the match, Newcastle would open the game up during the 3rd period & finish off the match, but i was impressed with the resilience of the Botany team. They pushed right until the final buzzer & were rewarded with two final period goals, something which will help lift their confidence.

And as a fan tweeted on the night "best game I've seen the Swarm play this year, to be honest. This is the team i remember. Good work, lads. Better luck tomorrow." which makes the return match against the Ice this afternoon all the more intriguing. 

Are the Swarm starting to hit some form which seen them take out the past two NZIHL titles? one can only hope, as i want to see competitive hockey when i sit down & watch the match live this afternoon. 

Newcastle will be feeling good about themselves heading into today's game against the Stampede, without some key players (notably Robert Starke) they looked good. They absorbed the pressure the Swarm put on them throughout the match & finished off well in front of the net, another big game from Olivier Martin & Robbie Lawrance should see the North Stars leave Melbourne 2 from 2 this weekend & possibly TTCL winners.

The two AIHL clubs look to have that extra class after two games of hockey, but anything can happen overnight (as shown by the Mustangs last weekend) so i look forward to what both NIZHL clubs will bring this afternoon at the Icehouse. 

After each game there were Players of the Match for either team, below are the selections for game 1 & 2.

Game 1: Joel Cleroux (Southern), Joey Hughes (Melbourne)
Game 2: Zak Nothling (Botany), Robbie Lawrance (Newcastle)

By Andrew Macdougall

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