Thursday, July 12, 2012

Match Focus: Ice v North Stars

Melbourne Ice v Newcastle North Stars
July 14, Hunter Ice Skating Stadium - 5:00pm

This weekend in the AIHL we see a clash which has been earmarked as a must see for over a month now, it contains two of the heavyweights in the AIHL this season. Easton Conference leaders Melbourne Ice travel up north to face the Bauer leading Newcastle North Stars & if we used the AFL & NRL analogy, it would be a perfect Friday night blockbuster!

Both teams come into the game with terrific form, Newcastle slightly out doing their opponents on games won consecutively (9 in a row). While the Ice have their own little bragging rights as they head up to NSW, being the reigning Trans Tasman Champions after piping the North Stars on goal difference. In my view this just adds a little spice to what should already be a great contest.

Both teams have been on some what of a scoring massacre, in the last 5 games alone there have been 63 goals scored (34 Ice, 29 North Stars) between the two teams. I suppose that's what happens when the top 6 scorers from the league come from either the North Stars or Ice. It almost seems as though both teams have made a bet with each other "let's see how many goals we can score before we both meet next" which obviously isn't the case, but it does feel like a 'what ever you can do i can do better' type situation. Which brings me to my next thought.

Both teams hold several keys which puts them above the rest of the competition, one of them keys being goaltenders. With Newcastle putting all of their trust in Olivier Martin, who has played 12 games from a possible 13 available. His GA sits at 3.07 according to which is very much a reasonable percentage given the amount of ice time he has had. Flip over to the Ice and it's a different story, the Melbourne side have rotated goaltenders giving both Stu Denman & Dahlen Phillips enough ice time each. So far it has worked very well for the team & was a success once again on the weekend, as both Ice goalies put in solid shifts across the Champions League weekend. Having 2 of the top 3 goalies in the competition does give you that luxury I suppose.

Who will get the nod for the Ice this weekend? My gut feel is Stu Denman, but nothing is for certain.

It's not only a big game for Newcastle because of the form & league position both teams are in, it's also an important game as the Bauer Conference top position is still up for grabs. Sydney Ice Dogs are nipping at the heels of the North Stars, it's only 4 points separating the top two, both teams sitting on 13 games played means the result is crucial. Especially crucial with the Ice backing up on Sunday against the Ice Dogs, a win could mean the North Stars get a chance to skip ahead if the Ice can do the job against the Sydney outfit.

Could travel play a factor? In the league Newcastle have only traveled away once in the past month, while the Ice have played at home twice after enjoying a 5 game home run in May. I suspect that won't play a huge factor in the match, but it's something to think about. Newcastle traveling to Melbourne for the Trans Tasman competition could play into the Ice's hands.

With both teams conceding less than 15 goals each in the past 5 games it sets us up for a terrific battle of offense v defense, Baclig & Armstrong v Lawrance & Starke, or Bales & Boyer v Wilson & Graham, these are just a few of the quality players who will be out on the ice Saturday afternoon. Gets the mouth watering just thinking about the prospect of these top hockey players going head to head, it's fair to say I am envious of the local folk who are able to make the game. Hope you all turn out.

There isn't really much else I can say about the upcoming match, it should be a terrific game of top quality hockey, I sincerely hope it lives up the billing that it has been over the recent weeks. It's hard for me to even pick a winner out of this one, I think it's going to be a tight affair with defense & both goalies playing well. 

If i had to go with someone, North Stars 3-2 victors (for the sheer fact of home ice advantage).

Melbourne Ice

Last 5: WWWWW
Standings: 1st, Easton Conference

Newcastle North Stars

Last 5: WWWWW
Standings: 1st, Bauer Conference

Key Player: Olivier Martin (SV% .878, W9, L3) - It was very difficult for me to pick a key player this weekend, with so many quality players on the ice. I have gone with Newcastle goalie Olivier Martin as i think he will need to play a vital role in the game for the North Stars, Newcastle will be looking for a solid shift from their main man between the pipes, he will need to keep the side organised & being vocal will also be a must for Martin. Martin with the best save percentage in the Trans Tasman Champions League, will be hoping to continue that form this weekend.

By Andrew Macdougall

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