So the Trans Tasman Champions League was wrapped up Sunday night after two days of fun filled hockey, which gave us a few surprises as well as the more common thing people have become accustomed to, the Ice winning more trophies.
Wrapping up day 1 of the tournament things didn't really look good for either team from New Zealand, outplayed for majority of their matches both sides needed to get back to basics. Not only were NZIHL fans hoping for a better showing on day 2, myself like many other AIHL supporters were looking for some good competitive hockey by the teams from across the ditch. We got half there i suppose.
The Southern Stampede would be bitterly disappointed on their performances across the weekend, i am not sure how the club travels during the NZIHL schedule, but i suspect it was a below par performance. A total of 23 goals across two games being let in, not only is it not acceptable, but disgraceful at the same time. Solid performances from Player of the Match receivers Joel Cleroux & Connor Harrison can't cover up the poor results across the weekend, heading back to New Zealand the club will be looking for anything to try & kick start their NZIHL season as they currently sit 2nd last. I don't know if it was jet lag or other circumstances not at hand, but traveling across the Tasman was something they would rather forget.
Newcastle got what they set out to do, not only win the match against the Stampede, but win with enough goals to force the Melbourne Ice to chase victory. Beau Taylor put in a Player of the Match performance in game 2 against the Stampede which seen the Bauer leaders win 11-3, so the equation for the Ice was simple, win by 2 goals and the cup is yours. Simple right? the Botany Swarm had other ideas.
A job well done for the North Stars, 2 wins from 2 & it was all they could do as they waited for the final game of the tournament to be played. Their class & organisation was just too much for the traveling NZIHL teams, something which seemed to hold stead across both match days. Their form was carried right through from the AIHL to the TTCL, a little slow to start off with i thought in game 1, but they were in full flight by Sunday afternoon. Congrats to the Newcastle boys on a superb TTCL campaign.
So the Ice had to win by 2 goals, going by day 1 it looked pretty simple. That was until the clock ticked over to 7:30pm.
In a match that had everything the Botany Swarm looked like a team which had won the past 2 NZIHL titles, for 2 periods & 10 minutes or so the Swarm threw everything they had at the Ice, yet fell agonisingly short. Even early penalties couldn't sway a focused Botany team, they were pumped & in a surprise so was the crowd, with plenty of voice from the traveling Botany fans (or perhaps fans cheering for anything but an Ice win).
As a favourite son went down (Joshua Hay) their tails went up, and the Swarm running on emotion & adrenaline took the lead heading into the first intermission. Sitting there pondering the first period i couldn't help but think the Ice weren't being physical enough, i know Hay was taken from the game, but generally it wasn't a constant thing from the Ice. I don't know if they could read my mind from the front row glass section of bay 1, but the Ice came out a much more aggressive unit in the second period.
End to end hockey was on display, Ice were hitting harder & taking penalties in their stride. The crowd was getting restless as player after player (sometimes the same) on the Ice roster headed for the box, being a neutral to the game, i actually felt it was a ploy by the Ice coaching staff. "Hit them hard & hit them often" is something i would have drilled into the lads at the intermission, something i thought was more true as the game went on. I thought the Swarm definitely had the Ice rattled for periods of the game, but i also felt the Ice controlled a lot of it. Weird? surely it makes sense.
Right or wrong call the Ice fans weren't happy & weren't going to take it lying down. By now the noise levels throughout the Icehouse had risen, the Ice wanted this win & weren't going to let any ref stand in their way. Got to love the passion for their team.
And one man, or should i say mountain, was having his say on the match as well. That man was Zak Nothling.
I had heard about this guy via tweets from various individuals who are involved with either the AIHL or NZIHL, he definitely didn't disappoint.
After you get past the initial size of the guy, the New Zealand native can actually goaltend, and goaltend well. Across both days of the TTCL Nothling was a constant thorn in both AIHL teams sides, the GA% i feel is not a clear reflection on the weekend the Swarm goaltender had, without his superb play between the pipes things would have been a lot worse. Hats off to Zak Nothling, for me it was a joy to watch one of the superb goalies from the NZIHL.
Eventually the big hits & class play of the Ice shone through, they were just the better team, not only day 2 but back on day 1 as well. Every hurdle they had thrown at them they were able to overcome, the sign of a true established & well drilled championship calibre team. The final result was a 8-5 victory to the Melbourne Ice, 5-5 after two periods showed how tight the match was. Heavy hitting from the much larger Ice took it's toll as the Swarm slowed down, 3 final period goals was enough to give the Ice a Champions League victory on home soil.
So for the Ice they are the first winners of the Trans Tasman Champions League trophy, something which can be added to the ever growing cabinet. For Newcastle it's a case of deja vu, finishing second once again behind the Melbourne Ice & losing out on another trophy. It does set up the AIHL for a mouth watering fixture this weekend, where the Bauer & Easton heavyweights collide in what be a ripping game of hockey.
For the Stampede it's a case of lesson learnt, they have now felt the full force of the AIHL top dogs & fell well short, back to basics & now refocus on the NZIHL. The Swarm have something to build on, their season so far in the NZIHL has been less than glamorous. The form showed in game 4 against the Ice will no doubt be a building block, something they will be hoping can be carried into the remainder of the season.
Overall it was such an enjoyable weekend of hockey, i don't think i heard one bad thing across the two days. Hats off must go to everyone across the AIHL, NZIHL & in between for getting this tournament up & running, something i hope (and feel) will become a big part of the southern hemisphere hockey fixture.
Players of the Match for the final two games were.
Game 3: Connor Harrison (Southern), Beau Taylor (Newcastle)
Game 4: Richard Idoine (Botany), Lliam Webster (Melbourne)
By Andrew Macdougall