There are seven remaining weekends of AIHL regular season for 2014.
In those weekends, the eight teams will play between eight and twelve games.
All eight teams have a realistic chance to both make and miss out on the AIHL Finals in Melbourne on the 29th and 30th of August 2014.
The numbers speak volumes, but some observations on form and team depth make for an interesting discussion.
We’ll go through the teams alphabetically.
The Adelaide Adrenaline were on a slide in June. Until their win in Newcastle on the 21st, they hadn’t won a game all month. Since that time (coincidental with the residency of Josef Rezek) the Adrenaline are yet to lose a game.
The Adrenaline have also welcomed another permanent resident; Ryan Remillard played for Adelaide when they were the Avalanche in 2007.
Add to this the return of James Keane, Josh Harding and others and you have perhaps one of the deepest teams in the AIHL.
The Adrenaline will be one of the hardest teams to beat on the home run.
29 points (49% win) with 24 points available (8 games)
4 home, 4 away
3x Bears, 3x Brave, 2x Ice
The Adrenaline have the fewest games remaining of any teams (8) and have won 29 points. They are currently the fourth-placed team but with more games played sit in fifth on Win%.
In their favour, their remaining games include doubles at home versus the eighth-placed Bears, and the Brave. The Adrenaline lead the Ice 2-0 in the series with two more to play in Melbourne.
The Adrenaline are good contenders to finish in a Finals position and overcome their inconsistent results from earlier in the season.
The Bears were one of the strongest teams early in the season, sitting in second place on the 11th of May.
Their early-season success was due to strong coaching and a full squad of imports from the first game on.
The loss of a few players to inline duties coincided with a severe drop in form, although the long streak of losses may have been equally influenced by the improved form of the opposition teams.
The recent three wins for the Bears (two in Melbourne) are proof that they are a side capable of winning any game against any team.
The problem for the Bears now, is that many of the other teams have improved since the early season and they are the only team that requires more than a shoot-out win every game from now to at least get above 50% for the season (22 points from 10 games).
21 points (39% win) with 30 points available (10 games)
5 home, 5 away
3x Adrenaline, 2x Brave, 1x Ice, Ice Dogs Mustangs, North Stars, Thunder
The other problem for the Bears is that they have a tough run home. The Adrenaline will be one of the strongest teams on the home run and the Bears have a double in Adelaide to face.
Getting at least four of six points against the Brave is a big challenge.
The CBR Brave are the talk of the 2014 AIHL season, and they’ve exceeded expectations with their on-ice performance thus far in 2014.
The Brave currently sit in second place in the league but have the same win% as the first-placed Mustangs.
The Brave have performed well due to a combination of sudden new-found depth, excellent import recruiting and a home-game-heavy early season.
Finding two Canadian college players of import quality with New Zealander heritage was a stroke of genius, and contributed to the Brave’s instant success.
Looking forward, the Brave will do it a little tougher than previously. They have the same full squad they’ve had all along, so aren’t likely to improve much. They have a big task ahead of them with seven of their remaining eleven games being away from home.
30 points (59% win) with 33 points available (11 games)
4 games home, 7 away
3x Adrenaline, 2x Mustangs, 2x Thunder, 2x Bears, 1x Ice Dogs, North Stars
The Brave’s three games against the Adrenaline, two against the Mustangs and two against the Thunder will be tough, as these are likely three of the hardest teams to beat down the stretch.
Fortunately for the CBR Brave, they have made hay while the sun has been shining, and probably have enough points already to see them through to their first ever AIHL Finals.
The Melbourne Ice were the AIHL’s top team throughout May. On the 18th of May, the Ice had 20 points from only 8 games for a win percentage of 83%. Their nearest rival was CBR Brave with 61%.
Like many other teams, their mid-season has been inconsistent. Also like other teams, some part of this was due to player unavailability. The loss of Jason Baclig for a few weeks while he returned to Canada for a family event had a noticeable effect on the Ice.
Some of their results, however, are probably more related to the improving form of the opposition, than just the Ice team itself.
29 points (54% win) with 30 points available (10 games)
8 games home, 2 away
3x North Stars, 2x Thunder, 2x Adrenaline, 1x Ice Dogs, Bears, Mustangs
Ice fans have reason to be concerned. In June and into July the Melbourne Ice played 9 games, but collected only 7 points from a possible 27.
The North Stars and Thunder may have seemed like easy-beats earlier this season (although the North Stars beat the Ice 7-4 on June 14th). This is no longer the case.
The Thunder will be one of the top five hardest teams to beat in the run home, and the North Stars could make that list too, with an entire second line joining the team.
The Adrenaline are also likely to be one of the top five teams from here on.
The Ice does have two strong advantages. The first is they have only 2 away games remaining, with 8 games home. The Icehouse has to be a fortress for the Ice for them to keep their Finals placing. The second advantage is that they already have 29 points and still 10 games to go.
The Sydney Ice Dogs have handled the loss of several key players from their 2013 championship-winning season quite well.
Well enough to be currently in fourth place on win % with 28 points from their 18 games played.
The Ice Dogs seemed to have steadied in goal, with Noting putting away his temper and putting his stamp on the game. David Dunwoodie, a defencemen for most of his long AIHL career, has continued on his conversion to being a forward and rewarded the fans and teammates with a stack of points in 2014.
The Ice Dogs have their fate in their own hands. They have shown they are capable of beating any team in any rink. Down the stretch they will need to do that more regularly as the intensity and competition increases for the four Finals positions.
28 points (52% win) with 30 points available (10 games)
5 games home, 5 away
4x Thunder, 2x North Stars, 1x Brave, Ice, Bears, Mustangs
The Ice Dogs need to win their series against the Thunder, and currently down 2-0 need to stage a comeback against the North Stars. Six more wins from ten games should see the Ice Dogs through to Melbourne to defend their National Champions title.
The question the Ice Dogs have to answer, is whether they have been over performing to date, or if they have some more in the tank to fight off the teams climbing the ladder.
There’s no safer place to be than at the top of the points table. The Mustangs have the most points in the league with 32 collected already, and have 10 games remaining to play.
The Mustangs have had some trouble stringing consecutive wins together in 2014. More recently, they’ve been winning a few more than they’ve lost.
The Mustangs have a deep squad and the benefit of two AIHL-level Aussie goalies, a big advantage in a league struggling to keep top-level Aussie goalies from choosing real life over hockey life.
The Mustangs and their fans are building up in excitement as they fancy their chances of their first AIHL Finals experience.
32 points (59% win) with 30 points available (10 games)
4 games home, 6 away
3x North Stars, 2x Brave, 2x Thunder, 1x Bears, Ice Dogs, Ice
There’s plenty of risk ahead for the Mustangs, but also plenty of opportunity. The Mustangs also have several advantages, including the local goalies as mentioned above.
A resurgent North Stars and Thunder could cause some concern for the Mustangs, and the Brave are equal 1st-place holders on win %.
The Mustangs are a well-balanced team and have 32 points already in the bank. They seem pretty likely to make their first AIHL appearance in 8 weeks’ time.
The North Stars’ roster has been as inconsistent as their form. That’s probably not a coincidence. Players facing real-life commitments have come in and out of the team all season.
A very un-Novocastrian home disadvantage (just 2 wins from 8 games) is the first hurdle they must overcome. Newcastle are hoping the arrival of the cavalry will give them the legs they need to get home.
The late arrivals of Beau Taylor and Brian Bales are a big relief for the North Stars. Suffering the loss of an import spot to goal, plus the unavailability of David Upton eliminated two out of three places on their second line. Bales and Taylor make up that shortfall.
Also returning to the team from commitments in North America are Adam Geric and Matt Taylor.
The Newcastle cup now spilleth over and they have enough quality players to put three attacking lines on the ice, with a fourth line of youth eager to impress.
22 points (43% win) with 33 points available (11 games)
6x home games, 5 away
3x Ice, 3x Mustangs, 2x Ice Dogs, 1x Brave, Thunder, Bears
The North Stars are currently in seventh place with just 22 points from 17 games. Only the Bears are doing it tougher.
The good news for North Stars fans is that the cavalry have arrived. The bad news is they may have arrived too late.
The North Stars are heavily reliant on dominating the series against the two Melbourne teams. Already 1-0 on the Ice and Mustangs, a 3-0 or 4-0 record should restore their chances for a Finals place, assuming they can pick up a few wins from their other games.
The North Stars have the team to run down the top four, but there’s no more players yet to arrive, and the wins have to begin immediately for Newcastle.
The Perth Thunder have been as unlucky in 2014 as the Adrenaline were in 2013. Having Corey Toy out for several weeks due to being hit in the face while blocking a shot was especially devastating for the Thunder, as was the delayed arrival of Justin Fox and Stuart Stefan.
Even with the full squad, the Thunder haven’t been as successful as they needed to be – the loss to the Sydney Bears on the 22nd June may have been a loss that could haunt them.
When the Thunder had a full team last season, they were unstoppable. Until they didn’t have a full team.
In 2014, they have an almost identical team with classy imports of a level as they had in their heyday of 2013.
The Thunder have the team they need to claim a finals spot after climbing off the bottom of the AIHL ladder. Now they must execute and win many more games than they lose.
22 points (46% win) with 36 points available (12 games)
6 home games, 6 away
4x Ice Dogs, 2x Brave, 2x Mustangs, 2x Ice, 1x Bears, North Stars
The Thunder don’t have to worry about the North Stars and Adrenaline’s improving depth and/or form, as they have just one game remaining versus Newcastle.
The Thunder are yet to play the Ice Dogs, who are a team capable of beating any other team on their day. The Thunder do have an advantage in depth, and will need to use it and their thinking caps to win or dominate the series against the Ice Dogs.
The other two obvious challenges are the doubles remaining against the Brave and Mustangs, the current two top teams.
Of course, if you can’t beat the top four teams in the AIHL, you have no business being a top four team.