And so, on Sunday afternoon, the AIHL regular season finally came to a close. The Blue Tongues, despite being shut out of the finals, brought their best game to Adelaide for a double-header against the Adrenaline. The Tongues won Saturday’s game by a good margin, but the Adrenaline came back on Sunday, beating the Tongues in a shootout after a tough, penalty-filled game and an extraordinary four goals by Greg Oddy. The Tongues are pleased with their end-of-season performance, though, despite missing out on the finals, especially as their double-header against Adelaide came after a Thursday night match against the Melbourne Ice. The Mustangs unfortunately ended their season with two losses on the road in the Bauer conference, losing to the Knights and the Bears to take this year’s wooden spoon. And the Thunder ended their impressive first season with a tough weekend against the North Stars and the Ice Dogs, losing both games but putting up an impressive fight. (Meanwhile, at the Icehouse, the Melbourne Ice played against themselves.)
And now, we look to finals weekend in Newcastle, and what comes next…
While the AIHL is gearing up for the finals, it’s been a quiet week here at River Road Hockey. Partly because of the unfortunate fact that Jane and I both have jobs which sometimes leave us little time to do anything during the week. But it’s also because while the rest of the AIHL were throwing themselves into the last week of the regular season with aplomb, last weekend was one of those rare weeks when there was no AIHL hockey in Melbourne.
The other day, after returning happy but slightly sleep-deprived from Perth, I was visiting some old friends at Melbourne Uni when my attention was suddenly drawn to a man approaching me from the other side of the road. It was the logo on his Edmonton Oilers shirt that first drew my gaze. The sight of an NHL logo in the wild always catches my eye, filling me with the urge to reach out to a fellow hockey fan. (And, if it’s a Canucks jersey, to hum ‘Chelsea Dagger’ as I pass.) On this occasion, though, the familiar, welcoming sight of the Oilers logo was overshadowed by the way it was layered under a truly magnificent cardigan. Hand-knitted, button-down, and in a garish pattern of interlocking triangles in at least seven different pastel hues, this cardigan was a beacon to all, not just to hockey fans. But combined with the clearly visible Oilers shirt, it screamed “Under my artsy, attention-grabbing, so-uncool-it’s-cool outer wear, I’m really a sports fan. But only of teams you’ve never heard of.”
Sadly, while I was frozen in dumbstruck awe, Oilers Cardigan Guy turned a corner into one of the university’s many labyrinthine laneways and no matter how I stared after him, he never reappeared. But I know he’s out there. Somewhere. And if I ever see him again, I’ll make sure he knows that at least one person has heard of his team. (I’m sure he’ll promptly feel the urge to change his team to something more obscure. Possibly the Hartford Whalers.)
Aside from my dramatic, tragically brief hockey fan encounters, there was also some AIHL news this week. Read on for game reports, charity fundraising, hockey in the mainstream media and all you ever wanted to know about Ric Del Basso’s taste in cars.
Marcus Wong (left) and Chris Wong (right) at IIHF U18 Division III championship in the 2010-2011 season
“I’m not my brother.”
It’s the first thing Chris Wong says to me, after we’ve gotten the greetings out of the way and I’ve asked about what subjects he’s doing at school. He’s talking about his academic course of study, but it could well apply to the different paths the Wong brothers have taken to both hockey and life.
Chris and Marcus Wong both play for the Melbourne Ice–Marcus since 2010, and Chris since 2011. Marcus is 19, Chris is 17. Marcus plays defense and Chris is a forward–generally a winger. Marcus was captaining the national Australian Under-18 team when the team won all of its matches in 2011 and was promoted to Division II. Both of them are excellent players, and being so young, they’re hopefully going to be on both the Australian team and the Melbourne Ice for a long time.
When you live in Melbourne, Perth’s a long way to go for a couple of ice hockey games. It’s not the only reason I went there, and it’s not the only thing I did in the four days that Jane and I were there, but for hockey nuts like us it was the main attraction. For all that the Perth Ice Arena is small, remote and low-tech compared to the surrounds I’m used to at the Docklands, it has character. Spades of it. Melbourne’s my town and the Ice are my team, but as soon as the puck dropped at Malaga, I couldn’t stop thinking about how being a Thunder fan would be so much fun. It might not be the only reason I went to Perth, but there are a whole lot of reasons I’m going back next year and (almost) all of them are hockey.
Watching talented people being talented is fun. So is watching talented people fall over.
Over the weekend, the Melbourne Ice traveled to Perth to face the Perth Thunder twice more in a double-header. The Thunder were desperately trying to keep their finals hopes alive, and the Ice wanted to prove they were still on form and ready for finals as lines and pairings were shuffled due to player absence (Todd Graham has headed off to college in the US) or suspension (welcome back, Joey). In the end, both teams proved something more important–the Thunder that their speed and systems could match it with the best in the league and the Ice that they could put the past behind them to change the present.
The tie-breaking shootout is a much maligned feature of hockey. Many have decried its introduction to the NHL after the 2004-05 lockout, and there are many who would rather not see it in the AIHL either, or at least see a five-minute overtime period beforehand. I understand the argument that it leaves too much up to luck and that shootout wins aren’t a true reflection of which team was better on the night. All good arguments, all well-reasoned and deserving of consideration. My position, though, is a simple one: I love the suspense, I love the duel between shooter and goaltender, I love seeing the pure skill of two individuals pitted against each other, one-on-one. I really, really love shootouts.
Mind you, I wasn’t completely overjoyed when the final siren blew at the Icehouse on Sunday with the Ice and the Bears still tied at three all. I hesitate to say that the Melbourne Ice are in a slump, but over the last few weeks they’ve looked less like the ruthless powerhouse they were earlier in the season and more like, well, a decent team that has some off games. Not to mention that this was the third game they’d played in four days – I was feeling worn out too, and I’m just a spectator. It was a game that started slow and only really grew intense in the final period, with neither team really dominating – when from the way the Bears played last time I saw them, I’d have expected the Ice to win without too much trouble. But although it would have been nice to see my team win outright instead of splitting the points, the thought that was foremost in my mind at the final siren was hell yes!
Much as I love the shootout, though, there were forty-five minutes of game, six goals and twenty-four minutes of penalties before it got to that point, so I should probably talk about that first. If I must.