It’s all happening in Australian hockey this week. As the women’s league hurtles towards the finals, the AIHL is stirring again with tryouts, practices and one big announcement.
This weekend is the final round of the AWIHL season before the finals in March. The Melbourne Ice visit the Sirens in Penrith while the Adrenaline travel to Brisbane to face the Goannas. Melbourne and Adelaide are still deadlocked in first place on the ladder with the exact same number of wins, unbeaten by everyone except each other. With both teams on the road in the final week, could we finally see one of them blink? The Goannas and the Sirens won’t be able to break into the top two spots for the finals, but there’s still plenty of room for every team to try to grab a good position before all four teams meet in Newcastle in two weeks’ time.
Meanwhile, many AIHL teams have been quietly gearing up for the 2013 season, getting back to practices and starting their selection process. Perth Thunder have been particularly talkative about their tryouts, with the return of Stan Scott’s Coach’s Corner (Part 1 & part 2) and even some video interviews. The Melbourne Ice are having their first tryout session tonight at 8pm, and fans are invited to come and watch from the St Moritz Bar along with club President Emma Poynton. And even those AIHL players who are still enjoying the northern hemisphere’s hockey season are turning heads – check out this week’s Buffalo Sabres feature on Melbourne defenceman Todd Graham.
But the biggest news this week was one that affects the whole league: this season, AIHL games will be shown on Fox Sports. (And further information from the Newcastle North Stars, who spoke with the commissioner and ATC Productions manager James Morgan.) It’ll be one featured game per week, and delayed, but nonetheless it’s a huge step forward for a sport that’s still trying to claw its way towards mainstream consciousness. The first game to air will be the Ice vs Mustangs season opener, and will be shown on ANZAC Day, which could give it an even bigger viewership. And for those of us who are already converts, it gives us a few more chances to see games held interstate that we wouldn’t otherwise get a look at. A huge win for Australian hockey all round.
It was one of the most anticipated games of the AWIHL season. After the Adelaide Adrenaline and Melbourne Ice came away from their season-opening double header with one win each, both teams had remained undefeated ever since. They’ve emerged as the teams to beat, both high-scoring and highly skilled, and the Adrenaline’s first appearance in Melbourne was bound to be an exciting affair. The game we got on Saturday was skilled, alright, but between a linesman’s rendition of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ at the start of the game and the 5-1 victory to Melbourne at the final siren, there were also injuries, arguments, and so many penalties that I ran out of room for them on the Ice’s new do-it-yourself game sheets.
Please note I missed one of the Ice penalties. There really were too many for the sheet. And, apparently, my attention span.
Last year’s AIHL season is well behind us, but it’s not entirely forgotten. Vic Sports announced their 2012 award nominations yesterday, with the Melbourne Ice in the running for Men’s Team of the Year, along with the Melbourne Storm. Past winners of the award include Melbourne Victory soccer team and the Victorian Bushrangers cricket team, so a win for the Melbourne Ice would put them in good company.
Looking ahead, the Ice announced yesterday that Sandy Gardiner will coach the men’s team for 2013. Sandy has a long history with the club and has been an asset behind the bench for the team’s recent championship seasons, and we all look forward to seeing him at the helm from now on.
But the big event this week is what’s happening on the ice. In this weekend’s AWIHL matches, the Melbourne Ice and Adelaide Adrenaline sides meet for the first time since the opening round back in November. Both teams came out of that weekend with a win and a loss, and both have been undefeated since.
Andrea Steranko is going to be the Adrenaline player to watch – she leads the league in points and goals, and when I’ve seen her play in the past I was especially stunned by her ability to find breakaway opportunities. Bethanie Kavanagh’s also been a high scorer for the Adrenaline. On the other hand, the Melbourne Ice have a wide spread of players who have been scoring, and their defence has gone from strength to strength. It’s the most unpredictable matchup of the season. The only thing we can say for sure is that tonight at the Icehouse, someone’s winning streak is coming to an end.