Australian Ice Hockey League grand final to feature Melbourne Mustangs and Melbourne Ice

31 Aug, 2014 06:20 AM
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Australian ice hockey's fiercest rivalry will further raise the stakes Sunday when the Melbourne Mustangs play the Melbourne Ice for the national title at the Docklands Icehouse.

The Mustangs defied a third period rally from title-holders the Sydney Ice Dogs to win Saturday's tense and dramatic first semi-final 6-4, while the Melbourne Ice pulled away from first-time finalists Canberra Brave to win the evening semi-final 6-1

As a result, the Mustangs and Ice will face-off for the Australian Ice Hockey League title at 3pm Sunday.

The Mustangs narrowly won the minor premiership, with Ice finishing second, but Ice has won three of the four meetings between the clubs this season, including a 5-1 result at their final meeting on August 14. Ice are perennial recent finalists and won three consecutive titles from 2010-2012; the Mustangs are only four years old and have gone from the bottom of the table to the top in the past three years. Many of the players and officials from either team have played or worked together.

In Saturday's thrilling first game, Viktor Gibbs-Sjodin and Jamie Bourke, rested from last week's final game of the season against the Ice Dogs, both scored twice for the Mustangs, who were also playing their first-ever AIHL final.

The Ice Dogs continually rallied, and looked set to overpower their younger opponent when they levelled the game at 3-3 in the frantic third period, but the Mustangs responded with two brilliant Gibbs-Sjodin goals in three minutes. Australian Ice Dogs star David Dunwoodie ensured a frantic finish by scoring on the powerplay with two minutes to go, but the Mustangs withstood the barrage and added an empty net goal in the final seconds to cap an impressive victory.

In the later game, Ice withstood several early Brave charges, led by stellar import Stephen Blunden, largely thanks to unheralded Kiwi goalie Jaden Pine-Murphy. But once they found their range offensively, they took control.

Local stalwart Tommy Powell tipped in a Sean Hamilton slapshot, then turned provider with a superb cross ice slap pass for Todd Graham to score to give Ice a 2-0 buffer at the first break.

They became dominant in the second period, out-shooting Brave 18-6.

Leading 4-1at the start of the final period, Ice withstood Canberra's unstinting efforts to close the gap, and added two late power play goals to blow out the margin. Powell went on to score a hat-trick, underlining the depth and experience of Ice's local talent.

Canberra's rise from the bottom of the table to the playoffs was stunning. Their previous incarnation the Canberra Knights was wound up six weeks before the start of the season and the new entity mobilised an entirely new management team and a fanatical fan base to become a title contender.

The Ice Dogs withstood off-ice backroom turmoil, including the resignation of its entire coaching panel, to overcome a poor start and qualify for the finals ahead of strong competition from Perth Thunder, the Newcastle North Stars and Adelaide Adrenaline.

Australian NHL signee Nathan Walker was a special guest at the semi-finals, dropping the puck before the first semi-final, which featured several friends and former teammates from Sydney.

Both semi-finals were fierce, fast and raucously supported by the four sets of fans who packed out the Icehouse.

The two winners had to produce their best, most disciplined hockey of strong campaigns to overcome elite opponents and enter the grand final fit, confident and peaking.

Now the rink mates face off, not just for bragging rights, but for the Goodall Cup. It ought to be the loudest, most passionately observed decider in AIHL history.

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COMMENTS

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