Perth Thunder traveled down to Melbourne this weekend in a bid to try & get back on track heading towards the AIHL playoffs, Perth had been in a slight form slump, although as some suggested the team was playing better than the win/loss statistic would tell you. Mustangs were improving under Laforet & wanted to continue that trend, while the Ice were looking to get back in form and look to once again dominate the Easton Conference. But as we found out by Saturday & Sunday afternoon, the weekends of both Melbourne clubs didn't go the way they might have planned.
Thunder v Mustangs
The Mustangs welcomed Perth to the Icehouse on Saturday afternoon & after back to back defeats earlier in the season at home against the Mustangs, Perth were looking to get one back against their fellow Easton Conference rivals.
|Perth get the all important 1st road win|
The first period opened up with both teams working well on the backcheck, not allowing either team time to settle on the puck & get any clear scoring opportunities, something which Perth would carry across the whole weekend. Perth would eventually start to get their game going, pushing forward well & really testing Mustangs goalie Oliver Wren (who was once again looking in top form). Perth struck first late into the period when Brad Young was finally able to beat the Canadian & nudge the Thunder ahead, a lead they would hold heading into the first intermission.
As the game went on Perth were able to gradually get on top of the Mustangs, their skating started to become a real issue & the speed of Ken Rolph was showcased as he darted his way through the Mustangs defense which eventually lead to a Phil Ginand goal. It was the start of a 3 goal period (Del Basso, Kudla the other scorers) for Perth, something which I didn't see coming when watching the game unfold. It meant Mustangs coach Steve Laforet had to make the hard call & pull goalie Oliver Wren, something which hadn't been done since Wren's
The Mustangs put on some very good pressure during the first part of the period, but weren't able to do quite enough on power play opportunities. Although the Thunder did have Kiefer Smiley guarding the goals with his life, coming up with some terrific saves & really looking cool under pressure. He was one of the stand out performers across the weekend in my eyes, he put in two really terrific shifts for the Western Australian outfit.
The Mustangs were able to pull two goals back half way through the final period, it gave the home crowd hope, which was somewhat disappointing (390 according to the AIHL). Scott Levitt scored two terrific goals, one of them a terrific unassisted goal as he tried to ignite & lift his side to an improbable victory. It was short lived however, as Phil Ginand would add two late goals to snuff out any chance of a Mustangs revival & pick up a hat trick in the process. Perth's work on the power play was a stand out throughout the afternoon, 4 goals game from their PP unit which eventually lead to the final scoreline of 7-2. Perth got part one of their Melbourne trip completed, a victory over the Melbourne Mustangs.
Thunder defender Aaron Wilson one of the stand outs for me in what was a terrific defensive display, but an all round team performance also, Perth were able to pressure well & their poke checking was a feature throughout the match. On the other side of the ice Moore & Levitt have been carrying the offensive load in recent weeks for the Mustangs, both being defenders it is not the perfect scenario for the home team, they will be looking to turn that around & get some more production out of their forwards in the coming weeks.
Thunder v Ice
With the performance from the Thunder the previous day, Sunday's game against the Ice was tipped to be a must watch encounter. Ice had very rarely lost at the Icehouse, Perth were looking to stamp their claim not only on the 2012 season, but they are a team which nobody should be taking lightly (especially if they make the playoffs).
Perth would get on the score sheet first through none other than Phil Ginand, with his partner in crime Ken Rolph picking up the assist. What came after that was in my mind the turning point of the game, Vinny Hughes coming in late & pushing Phil Ginand in the chest forcing him to go flying into the glass & boards, which earned the defender 2 minutes for roughing. The play was dead, Perth had scored & it was not the right time for Hughes to try & flex his muscle. It was the start of 3 penalties in the space of a minute, giving the Thunder power play opportunities, sometimes with a 5 on 3 advantage. Knowing how deadly the Thunder were the previous day on the power play, why would you give away meaningless penalties at that stage of the game?
It's something which I have spoken about in previous weeks in regards to the Ice, it's an area I think the Ice definitely need to try & rectify sooner rather than later. The penalties allowed Perth to get the jump on the Ice, 2 power play goals coming from the 3 penalties given away, it was a lead that was always going to be hard to chase down. Once the Ice knuckled down & started playing the puck a lot more things started to click, 2 late goals (both from Webster) had them back in the match, along with some superb work from Stu Denman who was coming up big for his under siege club.
The Ice are known for their physicality out on the ice, it is what has made them a very solid team throughout the years, but knowing when to be physical is just as important. Do Ice fans see this as a problem?
The game opened up in the second period with both teams pushing forward in search of a goal, it was end to end hockey, which for the fan was a joy to watch. Both goalies coming up with some terrific saves to keep the game interesting heading into the final period, the 2nd period ended on a sour note for Perth however, with Brad Young getting a game misconduct. Something Perth were hoping wouldn't come back to haunt them. As no goals were scored in the second we headed into the third just as the first finished, Perth leading 3-2.
|Thunder goalie Kiefer Smiley had a terrific weekend|
It was Perth who came out the better side & would open up a match winning lead, Ken Rolph & Phil Ginand the trouble makers for the Thunder as they both scored which gave the Thunder a 5-2 advantage. Speed & stick handling were the flavour of the weekend from the two Thunder stars, something which was a pleasure to watch. Perth continued to poke check & take away the passing lanes, something which the Ice couldn't counter. With the game all but over Martin Kutek was able to draw back a goal late on for the Ice, but it wasn't enough. As Rolph once again was able get on the score sheet with 5:21 remaining to pick up his hat trick & make sure the Thunder returned home with all 6 points. The final score 6-3 in the way of the Thunder.
For the Ice it was a performance not many expected, they didn't have that usual spark about them which we are usually accustomed to. It was a rather lackluster performance which was culminated in some brain freezes during that first period, my take on the Ice is get their PIMs in order, along with the likes of Jason Baclig back & fit on the Ice & things should return to normal order. They are too good of a team for them to fall into a large form slump, I expect the club to be up & about come playoff time.
Perth did everything they wanted to do & more, 6 points from an away trip to Melbourne won't come around everyday, so a terrific job by the WA team. Fours thing I took out of the weekends matches for the Thunder:
1) Their physicality can match it with the best
2) They have some serious speed which would scare any team
3) They have terrifically skilled hockey players on their roster
4) Their power play unit is scary
Having now been able to witness Perth in the flesh myself, I can comfortably say that the AIHL made the right decision with the inclusion of the team this season. They play terrific hockey, have players which makes you want to go to games & they are a very competitive team. If they are able to make to the post season they have every chance of making some serious noise.
By Andrew Macdougall