A very belated game post

Every other site out there has game recaps, so I’ve decided to do something a little bit different. Here’s a list of things that I thought were notable this weekend.

1. They had the umpires mic’d up during both games this weekend. It’s FASCINATING. They spend a fair bit of time going over penalties with the players. Some of them sing (for the guy sitting next to me who wondered why I was giggling helplessly and wanted to get away from the crazy woman, I’m sorry. In my defense, hearing Steve de Witt unconsciously singing along to the Hockey Song is HILARIOUS). Again, I would say that the $10 for the game radio to get the commentary is some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

Pro Tip: if your radio runs out of batteries, head out of the Icehouse and turn right. Take the first left and go to the cheap housewares shop there. They have batteries that will fit the radio.

2. Calling it a fight between Wilson and Greer is overstating things. Wilson made a check on Oddy, Greer didn’t like it and jumped him. Wilson didn’t get a chance to get his gloves off and didn’t get a punch in. Which is what led to Greer being ejected from the game and Wilson not being penalised. You could actually hear the refs talking about whether Wilson had gotten a punch in as they determined penalties. Really interesting.

3. I was wrong about Delsar! He only got one penalty at the end and didn’t seem particularly angry. I was actually looking forward to seeing Rezek and wonder at Adelaide’s choice not to bring him as he’s a major goal-scoring force for them and goals were in short supply. I hope he’s not injured.

4. Speaking of injuries, Matt Korthuis’s shoulder is almost better! He said at the pregame talk on Sunday that he was hoping to come back this week against the Gold Coast. I’ve really enjoyed watching Korthuis play, so here’s hoping he gets better soon.

5. Phillips got to start in both games this weekend! Apart from one goal where he did an overhead glove save and then put the puck back down behind him into his own net, he was really good. He faced 20 shots on goal from the second and 21 shots from the first. His SV% is still sitting at 0.906. PHILLIPS IS AWESOME.

6. Matt Armstrong seriously impressed me this weekend. Previously I’d thought he was strong on his skates and a trap-buster and watching people try to hit him and then fall over was hilarious. But his goals this weekend were absolutely incredible. In the first game, he got four assists and two unassisted goals. The goals were pure poetry to watch. Breakaways when we were at even strength–he just had an extra level of speed and got over the line and then got the puck in. It was beautiful. He also got two goals in the second game, one power play goal and one even strength goal.

7. Our first power play unit is amazing. Particularly, Army, Wilson and Baclig seem to be able to read each other very well and have infinite patience and quick reflexes. Supporting a team who scores power play goals is STILL NOVEL to me!

8. Wilson’s goal in the second game was great. He got put in the penalty box for a (really blatant) high-stick, and on his way out of the box just grabbed the puck and FLEW down to the other end. It was a gorgeous goal and he looked so happy afterwards!

9. Adelaide lacked cohesion in their defensive strategy for a lot of both games. Also, they didn’t seem to be able to adapt–their only method of getting the puck over the blue line was to dump-and-chase. That doesn’t work if the other team is both faster and stronger in board battles, but they didn’t seem to be able to adjust.

10. Also, differences in home rinks really were highlighted here. Adelaide’s rinks have boards that are too high for line changes except at stoppage of play. Their line changes weren’t as smooth as they could have been, which I guess makes sense if they don’t get an opportunity to practice it.

All in all, it was a weekend of hockey that made me grin like a loon. Here’s to many more like it! Unfortunately, I’m going to miss the games at the weekend. No Goldcoast for me! So it’ll be three weeks until I get to watch another game. Oh well, lucky the Stanley Cup Finals started today. GO KINGS!

A good weekend for Melbourne hockey (an understatement)

This post doesn’t actually contain a lot of discussion about how Melbourne Ice played this weekend, because I missed the Saturday game and although I was there on Sunday, Doug Wilson’s goal early in the first was so brilliant that it’s completely eclipsed my memories of what happened afterwards. This post does contain interesting links and commentary about what was, I think we can all agree, a very big weekend for Melbourne ice hockey.

It might have been a downer of a way to start the weekend, but I was pleased to see the AIHL’s round 4 tribunal report come out on Friday. It’s taken a while to hear any news on the verdict for Vinnie Hughes, and I can’t be the only fan who was starting to feel impatient. I understand the difficulties in convening a tribunal for a volunteer-run league like the AIHL, but it’s good to feel like you’re kept in the loop.

As for the results? Well, Jane and I are both fans of Mike Brown’s goaltending, but we have to admit what he did was silly. And while the discussion about Vinnie Hughes’ suspension after fighting Perth’s Sam Wilson is still ongoing, it’s good to know about the 6-week minimum. The report doesn’t mention any suspensions stemming from Greg Bay’s hit on Daniel Szalinski (and Mitch Humphries’ retaliation) last week, which is probably on a few people’s minds, but the commentary team mentioned an automatic two-match suspension for Humphries during Saturday’s game. I’d prefer a general weekly report on suspensions rather than just the things that go to tribunal, but either way, the tribunal report’s a step in the right direction and I hope it continues throughout the season.

Tragically, I couldn’t attend Saturday’s game due to family stuff. I managed to watch most of the first period on the live stream, but it didn’t work for the first minute and a half and by the time I got it running I’d already missed a goal and a fight. Thankfully I got to see the brutal job Melbourne Ice did on the resulting power play, but after that I had to go and spend my evening baking endless trays of party pies and sausage rolls. Fortunately, I made it to the game on Sunday, and there’s more than enough coverage to get me caught up on Saturday’s events.

First up, there’s a Doug Wilson radio interview that’s well worth listening to. I love hearing import players’ perspectives on the AIHL, especially those who have come from professional leagues, and I was also really interested by the way Doug talked about being compared to his father and uncle who were both NHL legends. And aside from all that, hearing non-Australians talk about footy just never gets old.

Will Brodie’s weekend wrap has quickly become the the piece of hockey journalism I look forward to the most every week. Detailed, well-written coverage of every clash this week, with a great photo gallery to go with it. “Wait,” you might be thinking, “There were games in Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Sydney this weekend. Will Brodie can’t have been at all of them!” You would be correct. I can only conclude that Will Brodie is a time traveller. It’s quite unfair. He should share his time travelling powers so that we can all go to six hockey games in four cities over one weekend.

There are several great recaps of the Melbourne Ice vs Adelaide Adrenaline double-header.  Melbourne Ice’s recap is a good fun read (at least as a Melbourne Ice fan) including all my favourite moments from the weekend, and Chris Meister from Hewitt Sports describes it as a “season-defining weekend”, although he also points out that Greg Oddy’s injury was a major disadvantage for the Adrenaline on Sunday.

Meister also wrote another article on the Melbourne Ice President’s address at the Icehouse bar before the game on Sunday. I have to dispute the attendance figure in the article – there were no more than thirty people there, and definitely nowhere near a hundred – but it’s true that it was a great opportunity as a fan to get some more insight into the club. I was surprised to hear Dahlen Phillips referred to as the team’s starting goalie, since Denman’s had more starts throughout the season so far, but Phillips went on to do a quality job in goal and take some excellent saves that afternoon. (Contrary to my expectations, Phillips played a full two games this weekend, rather than he and Denman taking one game each.) And it was really gratifying to hear the coaches talk so openly about the upset against the Bluetongues last week and working on making sure players support each other effectively on the ice. Aside from the insight into the workings of the club, though, it’s just great – if a little new and unusual – for everyone in the organisation to be so accessible to fans. Where else but the AIHL can you have your favourite player insult your Blackhawks shirt before the game and apologise for it at the pub afterwards?

The other article that I particularly recommend from this weekend is The best kept sporting secret in Melbourne by Erin Byrnes of the Sporting Journal, an account of Saturday’s Ice v Adrenaline clash from the perspective of a first-time hockey-goer. It covers the course of the game but more than that, it’s a top description of the experience of watching a hockey match at the Icehouse – with a few good nods to the Mighty Ducks, too.

Other miscellaneous fun stuff:

And most importantly of all, tickets for the Trans-Tasman Championship on 7 & 8 July go on sale today. If you can’t tell, I AM VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS. I’ll be all hockey-ed out after four games in one weekend but I have no doubt it’s going to be one of the highlights of the season.

At some point we’ll move on from talking about Ice vs Tongues… (links)

It’s funny what you take away from a game. On Sunday night, after THAT game at the Icehouse, I walked away more preoccupied with the shock that the Ice got shut out by the Bluetongues at home than the fact that Daniel Szalinski got seriously cleaned up out there. Even in the immediate aftermath of the hit, my thoughts were half “Jeez, I hope Szalinski’s okay” and “Oh Humphries, picking another fight with a guy who didn’t get a chance to fight back? STOP GIVING AWAY PENALTIES.” But with the news yesterday that Szalinski has a serious concussion, and the voice messages from him and his mum, I wish I’d given it a lot more thought instead of just wondering why hockey can only get on the news here if someone gets hurt. Well, as far as I’m concerned, the important thing now is that Daniel’s getting better, and Jane and I both wish him a speedy recovery.

Other hockey news before the weekend:

Puck Daddy covers the Szalinski hit. The hit seen around Australia is now the hit seen around the world, although I think Puck Daddy’s audience are less shocked by the hit than they are by the fact that a) Australians play ice hockey and b) they’re calling a concussion a concussion and not an ‘upper body injury’.

On The Fly interview Mustangs alternate Chris James. We may be Melbourne Ice fans at this blog, but we like to keep an eye on our hometown rivals, and this is a truly insightful interview into both Chris’s career and the mood at the Mustangs this season.

There are a couple of previews for the much-anticipated Ice vs Adrenaline double-header this weekend. Auspuck seems to be favouring the Adrenaline; Hewitt Sports are tipping both teams to win one game each. Plus there’s also Jane’s not-a-forecast post with plenty of interesting points to watch out for over the weekend.

In the world of general hockey news, Very High Dreams is a great post on the challenges that players from non-elite hockey countries face in trying to get into professional leagues. There’s plenty in this article that could apply to Australian Nathan Walker, who we’ll be looking out for in this year’s NHL draft.

A survey on Canadian hockey fans’ opinions on fighting makes for really fascinating reading. The main conclusion is the more you love hockey, the more you want to keep fighting in the game, but the findings are far more complex than that, and raises some questions that are worth considering for any league.

And lastly, a very interesting post on discipline and locker room culture in the NHL. Or “Why Tortorella is telling Rangers players they’re not allowed to feel tired.”

Have a good weekend, everyone. GO ICE GO!

Not a game forecast – Adelaide Adrenaline @ Melbourne Ice

I’m not actually going to publish a game forecast for this weekend. Well, this is sort of it, but honestly? I don’t know what to think.

The Ice had a bad game. It happens. Unfortunately, it’s really thrown what I expect from them into disarray. I think this will be a litmus test of the energy and attack that the team displays–whether the depth of the team is great enough to allow them to bounce back from the loss of last week with the absence of Korthuis and Vinnie Hughes. Szalinki is also missing due to a serious concussion from the massive hit from Greg Bay last week (Get well soon, Daniel!). It’ll also be a good test of the coaching. The Ice were stymied by the Bluetongues’ strategy, a tightly contracting defensive formation that prevented shots on goal from getting through, and you can bet that other teams in the league have taken notice of it.

Historically, the Ice very rarely win both games of a double-header. I hope that this is the exception, not the rule, but I am absolutely not expecting to win both games. Usually I’d say the Ice is pretty defensively strong, but I’ll be waiting to see whether Wilson is in the lineup this week (I hope he is). The Ice need to find a balance between being more aggressive about drawing opposing players out of their positions and staying out of the penalty box. Also, they need to find a way to counteract Oddy, as the Adrenaline captain has been on an absolute scoring tear lately. The Ice will probably start Denman as goalie in one game and Phillips in the other. Phillips is an exciting young developing goalie and I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’ll also be interested to see how Denman starts after allowing four goals off ten shots and being pulled for the third period.

Rezek is another player from the Adrenaline to watch out for. He’s scored eight points from his last five games. The previous time the Adrenaline and Ice met at Adelaide, he came off the worst from a mild check from Jason Baclig and had to be helped from the ice while appearing semi-conscious. He came back later in the game and scored a spectacular goal. From video highlights, he also went down in the last game against Perth. I’ll be watching his interactions with the Melbourne Ice with interest.

What’s going to be really interesting is how the Adrenaline are going to cope with the refereeing in Melbourne. The refereeing in Melbourne is tough. Chelsea was in Adelaide to see an Adrenaline game and was fairly taken aback at the intensity and level of emotion (we’re being generous) that Cass Delsar displayed. He’s recorded 22 penalty minutes in four games and I’m expecting to see him in the box this weekend. The game may turn into the Refs vs Delsar. Personally, I’m calling it for the refs.

A long time in hockey

Three weeks is a long time in the AIHL. On the first day of the 2012 season, the Ice and the Mustangs played a tough, well-matched game. The Ice only just scraped in their fifth goal to tie the score with five seconds to spare and went on to win in a thrilling shootout. There were only nineteen days between that opening game and their next meeting, but it was enough time for both teams’ form to change drastically. The Mustangs’ close loss against the Ice turned out to be the beginning of a demoralising downturn as they went on to lose their next two matches. The Ice, meanwhile, won three of their next four games with two of those wins in regulation time, but had to face the Mustangs without captain Vinnie Hughes, still waiting on his suspension verdict after an ugly incident in their last match against Perth Thunder. As both teams lined up to start Round 4 at the Icehouse on Thursday night before the Bluetongues came to town for the weekend, the mood was very different to the game not three weeks ago.

As it turned out, Round Four in Melbourne showed that four days can be a long time in the AIHL, too.

A Melbourne Ice victory already looked like a foregone conclusion by midway through Thursday night’s derby, in sharp contrast to the close season opener. Both teams capitalised on power play opportunities in the first period, but the Ice ran away with the score in the second, scoring another three goals to nil. It was refreshing to see a comparative lack of penalties compared to the previous game against Perth, and when the Ice took penalties they dealt with it well. McKenzie, for example, was visibly frustrated by his charging penalty in the third, but when he came out of the box he went hunting for the puck, not heads, and his spirit paid off. By the end of the match the Ice had matched their five-goal total from round one, but the Mustangs couldn’t get more than one power play goal past backup goalie Dahlen Phillips.

So far, more or less in keeping with the way Melbourne’s rival ice hockey teams have been playing this season. But when the Bluetongues came to town on Saturday, they shook things up more than anyone could have expected.

Jane and I both missed the Bluetongues’ Saturday night game against the Mustangs, so I don’t have a first-hand perspective on the game. From the live results I saw on Twitter and the post-game reports, it sounded like an exciting game, though I was amused at the Bluetongues twitter account making the kinds of complaints about refereeing that I’m more used to seeing from Mustangs fans. I hadn’t thought much about what to expect from the Bluetongues; they hadn’t been to Melbourne yet, but they were sitting comfortably in the middle of the conference standings and seemed to do moderately well aside from their understandable losses against the Adrenaline. It was a surprise to me that they lost to the Mustangs, but not a huge one, and I was just happy for the Mustangs for ending their losing streak.

It was a surprise, but not nearly enough of one to prepare me for their defeat of the Ice on Sunday afternoon. Jane’s already recapped the game, and the massive second-period hit by Bay and subsequent fight with Humphries have made sports newsreels all over the country as well as becoming the hot topic for discussion in AIHL circles this week. We all know what happened. The Ice looked like a completely different team to the one we saw on Thursday night – getting frustrated, taking more penalties and never quite finding their way past Giauque – and the Bluetongues looked more confident and in control than anyone could have expected given their record so far.

After three weeks and four rounds of hockey, we’re entering the part of the season where we can get an idea of each team’s style of play, and have a decent stab at predicting the main contenders for the Cup. But we’re still far enough from the finals that anything could happen, and the clash between the Ice and the Bluetongues was a reminder that there’s always room for an upset. In this case, it’s an upset with implications beyond the final score. As has been discussed elsewhere, the Adrenaline are now leading the conference by a full four points going into a double-header with the Ice this weekend, and the following weekend the Ice will play two away games against the team that just dealt them a demoralising blow at home. The next two weeks could have huge implications for the conference standings and particularly the Ice.

Yet although the next two weeks might make a huge difference to Melbourne Ice’s standings, I’m not worried yet, and I won’t be even if this loss turns out to be the start of a slump. If this much changed in four days, who knows what could happen in three months?

Round 4 coverage: Tongues lick Ice

The most disappointing thing about this week’s AIHL coverage is that nobody beat me to that pun.

Will Brodie’s week four wrap is a fantastic piece of writing about the whole weekend. There’s a definite focus on the three games in Melbourne, but it’s an excellent summary of the overall state of the league and what we could expect from the next round.

The Bluetongues’ win over Melbourne Ice on Sunday has turned out to be the hot topic of the week. Thanks to Bay’s massive hit on Szalinski and Humphries’ retaliation, the game highlights video got some play on Channel 7, Channel 9 and Fox Sports yesterday. It’s a bit of a shame that it takes a bit of violence to get ice hockey in the mainstream TV news – I think the last time I heard ice hockey mentioned on Channel 9 it was when Vancouver was on fire – but it has to be good for the AIHL to get some wider publicity.

Within the hockey community there’s been a little less talk about the hit and a lot more about the Bluetongues’ wholly unexpected shutout against the Ice:

In other less-publicised but just as worthy news, the Mustangs had their first victory for the season over the Bluetongues on Saturday night! The AIHL game report has some great comments from Mustangs players on what went right and what they can still improve on.

And as a few of the previous articles mentioned, Andreas Camenzind is leaving the Gold Coast for Switzerland after scoring a hat trick against the Ice. Nice having you, mate.

Looking outside of Melbourne, I was also keeping an eye on the Adelaide vs Perth double-header this weekend; I enjoyed seeing both teams play the Ice earlier in the season, and I have good friends who support both teams. Fortunately it was easy to keep up with Adelaide posting great highlights videos of Game 1 and Game 2. Game 1 didn’t look like it was a fun game for the goalies, though it was worth it just for the sight of Perth’s Phil Ginand trying to start trouble while Adelaide were celebrating a goal. There’s a good article covering both games by the AIHL, and Hewitt Sports discuss the play in game 2, including another hat trick by good old Oddy.

As for the Bauer conference, I haven’t been following it too closely just yet, as so far only the Knights have come to Melbourne and we won’t see the NSW teams for a while yet, but I see the North Stars had a huge weekend. Though sadly I’m yet to find any articles that mention the story from Twitter about the Bears’ goalie shooting the puck at a linesman.

Not what I wanted: Bluetongues @ Ice 20/5

On Sunday, I was at the Icehouse for the game against the Bluetongues.

4-0, in the Bluetongues favour. It was a game that was horrible to watch as a fan of the Ice, but a good lesson about where we fell short. The first goal was scored around five minutes into the first period, when a shot by Camenzind was deflected off Denman’s stick into his own net.

Melbourne Ice seemed flat, displaying none of the hustle that I’ve come to expect from them. While Melbourne Ice are among the faster teams in the league, on this occasion they were no match for the Bluetongues strategy of picking off passes and forcing turnovers.

Once the Bluetongues had the puck, they would typically pass it quickly up the ice between two or three players, leading to multiple occasions where Denman faced two-on-one or even two-on-none situations as the Melbourne Ice struggled to keep up. Camenzind particularly has an amazing turn of speed, and netted a hat trick accordingly.

The Ice outshot the Bluetongues by a significant margin, but none of those could seem to find net. It was an amazing performance by Bluetongues goalie Giauque, but one that owed a significant debt to a co-ordinated defense that shut down shooting lanes in front of him. The Bluetongues clustered tightly around the net, and the Ice couldn’t set up the plays that usually net them goals.

Furthermore, the Bluetongues had amazing defensive pressure, and the Ice didn’t respond well. While the Tongues mostly couldn’t fluster the more experienced members of the Ice, they mostly managed to prevent even experienced Ice players from getting a shooting lane. Beyond that, there were frequent occasions where younger members of the Ice weren’t able to break through the Tongues’ defense and responded by making a pass that was either easily picked off by a Tongues player or went directly to a Tongues player. Then, as previously mentioned, it was a race up the ice to stop the Tongues from getting an uncontested shot on goal.

The Ice opened up the second still on power play, which expired without score when Camenzind scored 42 seconds in. The Ice was still in the game until the final three minutes of the period, when the Tongues scored two more goals, giving Camenzind his hat trick. Denman looked dispirited.

There was a bit of excitement in the second–Bay had a massive open-ice hit on Szalinki. Bay approached on the blind-side, and did leave his skates slightly. It’s unclear whether the contact was to the shoulder or the head. It didn’t appear that Szalinki had touched the puck and wouldn’t have been expecting the check. Szalinki was knocked unconscious and retired hurt (I had thought that he returned later that game, but given that he was unconscious, that is extremely unlikely. 😡 GREG BAY) and Mitch Humphries immediately laid into Bay, continuing to punch him as he went down on the ice. Humphries was given an automatic game misconduct for the fight. Bay got two minutes for interference, and when he appeared to take rather heated exception to this, was given a game misconduct.

There were good moments. The Ice did actually manage to control the puck most of the time, although that never translated into the tic-tac-toe goals that I’ve seen in the past. The Ice came back into the third with a lot more energy than they’d previously displayed. Joey Hughes had a fantastic shift on a penalty kill where he stickhandled all the way into the offensive zone and it took three players to contain him, although he couldn’t get a shot on goal. There was a glorious attempted hit on Thorburn–he lowered his weight slightly to receive it and the Bluetongues player went flying.

Phillips replaced Denman in goal for the third period and stopped every shot directed at him. Melbourne Ice tried desperately to ward off a shut-out, but the one time they got the puck past Giauque the goal was disallowed. However, in spite of the better showing in the third, frustration set in. Webster and Wilson both got penalties in the last three minutes of the game, and Wilson came out of the box only to be seen lying on the ice. I don’t know what happened, but given that we’ve already lost Matt Korthuis to what may be (so the commentary informed me) an ACL injury, possibly for the rest of the season, I hope to God that Wilson’s ok.

The crowd pulled together. We supported our team. But losses still hurt, as a supporter and even more so for the players. All I can do is say “Next game.” and show up with fan colours flying.