2014 Season seaon start check upPredictions are up to you the reader, but it’s worth having a quick medical check up on each of the teams before the season begins today.

Sydney Ice Dogs

Last year’s champs have probably had the biggest shake-up of players. The Ice Dogs are without Anthony Kimlin, Anthony Wilson, Scott Stephenson, Alec Stephenson and Tomas Manco. Read that list again, as it contains five Australian reps, four of them from the senior team.

In their favour, they’ve converted two ex-imports into residents – Captain Robert Malloy and Mitch Bye.

How these balance out remains to be seen. Like almost all but one AIHL teams, the Ice Dogs have brought in an import goalie. Noting has a long history in Sweden’s Division I and II and is plenty tall at 6’4″.

Import goalies have to be better than Aussie goalies to justify their taking an import place and the loss of defence/attack that goes with that extra skater. Noting certainly seems to be well credentialed.

Newcastle North Stars

Last year’s finalists/runners up have had some similar experiences in the off season, with the loss of Aussie International goalie Olivier Martin. They have also lost the services of Aussie senior rep David Upton.

The haemorrhaging was less than Sydney Ice Dogs, however, and have David Ferrari back after a season of rehabilitation. They’ve also picked up Matt Taylor from the former Canberra Knights. Beau Taylor’s delayed arrival shouldn’t affect them too much, and their local players now fill them out to four lines.

North Stars have recruited well with the return of John Kennedy Jr (playmaking defender), Chris Wilson (SPHL), Cody Danberg (Allan Cup) and another towering goalie, Canadian Harry May, also 6’4″ or close to it.

Melbourne Ice

The 2013 Melbourne Ice had the goods to go all the way, but struggled with internal tensions and putting the best team on the ice (and keeping them there).

Many AIHL fans and analysts are picking Melbourne Ice to drop out of the top four in 2014. This is a big call after this team, little changed since winning three Goodall Cups in a row, prepares to re-launch their quest to win their fourth Cup.

Like the two above teams, the Ice have lost their local goalie. Dahlen Phillips didn’t have the results that Martin/Kimlin had in 2014, but was plenty good enough for the AIHL and his loss has cost the Ice an import skater.

The other omission from the Ice is the emerging Victorian, Marcus Wong, who has headed overseas.

Bizarrely, the Ice’s best credentialed import is also their most risky. The Ice found themselves in penalty trouble last season, and have now replaced the controversial Chris Frank with Jeff Smith, a heavyweight fighter with a collection of scalps from the AHL, ECHL and EIHL.

Smith is a personal friend of Jason Baclig, so hopefully will see his role as more of a shutdown guy in a league fairly intolerant of old school scrappers.

Another concern regarding the Ice is while import goalie Huth should on paper be as good as or better than any Aussie goalies, he doesn’t seem to be that big step above like most of the imports.

Stats certainly aren’t everything, however, and some previous AIHL import goalies have performed fantastically in Australia with similar credentials.

Perth Thunder

The Thunder’s season in 2014 was tumultuous. While the short-term services of Michael Forney were planned, and paid dividends after he was able to get a sleep in after arriving in Australia, the other departures were not.

In May/June 2013, there was no better team in the AIHL than the Perth Thunder, after a rocky start. Then in mid June two players skipped town, putting them back on the ropes.

The Thunder brought in two reserves, and were good enough to win their way back into the AIHL finals. The rest is history.

In 2014, the Thunder have gone with the slow & steady plan. They’ve recruited guys of great quality, rather than outrageous skill. They’ve picked guys they trust will perform well all season and love it here in Australia.

There’s been no news yet out of Perth on a goalie or locals (Thunder starting two weeks later than most other teams) but it’s pretty safe to assume that the Thunder will be a better team than in late 2013, and they were pretty damned good in late 2013.

Melbourne Mustangs

The Mustangs are a team that keeps improving. Since their debut season in 2011, the Mustangs have finished in 6th, 9th and in 2013 5th position.

The Mustangs have reversed their favouritism for import goalies and have put Fraser Carson in the place as preferred starter, following his performances for the Aussie Junior Team. This gives the Mustangs an advantage in skaters, but places extra risk and responsibility on a young Carson.

The Mustangs have picked up the Hughes brothers from Melbourne. How much this helps the Mustangs remains to be seen, but the building tension that existed between parties at the Ice not a concern at the Mustangs, it’s likely the synergy will be good in the orange and black.

The Mustangs have also recruited THE most credentialed import player in 2014, NHL draft-pick Viktor Gibbs Sjödin. Gibbs Sjödin has played as high as Sweden’s Allsvenskan, the feeder league for the elite Swedish national league.

The youth-stacked team that’s looked green in past season is ripening under Brad Vigon’s direction. If Carson can manage a save percentage in the high 80’s in season 2014, it’s reasonable to imagine they’ll play their first-ever AIHL finals game this season.

Adelaide Adrenaline

Midway through the 2013 AIHL season the Adrenaline were looking like finals contenders. They were winning around 50% of competition points, but the concern was that the results had been flattering.

The Adrenaline had been meeting other teams at fortuitous times, and they now faced some of the form teams – Newcastle & Perth especially so.

By season end they had dropped to a 42% win percentage. Not terrible, but even the Mustangs with their 55% weren’t able to qualify for the finals.

Adelaide have been especially quiet about their team for 2013, only releasing import details in the past few days. British import goalie Michael Will, also at 6’4″, looks promising for the South Australians.

The Adrenaline continue to have the support of veterans Greg Oddy, and Josh Harding, along with a solid line up of local players.

The question though is never has this team improved, but it’s has this team improved more than the other teams. The answer at this stage seems to be no.

Sydney Bears

The Bears are respected by other teams as a team that is in every game with a good chance to win. Well-coached and disciplined, they should be a team capable of breaking into finals contention again, but the young team of a few years back isn’t maturing into rampant AIHL warriors as yet.

The Bears have recruited well, but as in the case of Adelaide, have they improved enough?

Vlad Rubes and Brett Nelson-Bond are two veterans not available to the team in 2014. This loss of Australian Senior Men’s Team depth will make this a tough year for the Bears to improve on their previous season.

Canberra Brave/Knights

Everybody’s romantic team seems to have switched from Perth to Canberra in the off-season, after Knights owner John Raut decided to hang up everybody’s skates in late February. Seven days later Canberra had a new team, the Canberra Brave.

Their new stakeholders are a marketing company, and this has been reflected in how the Brave are making a statement off the ice. Two or more veteran players have returned to the team, wanting to help out and plug into the great community feel from the Brave since the change to a new team. News was released today (12th April) that the Brave has also found themselves a “CanKiwi”, a Canadian/New Zealander dual citizen who slips into the team as a resident.

Other than the extra vets and “CanKiwi” Matt Harvey, not a lot has changed. The “Saturday night only” schedule for home games meant for the Knights continues on to become the Brave’s schedule. When Canberra finishes a game at 7:15pm in Newcastle on a Sunday, they can expect a 2am Monday get-home time, with many still planning to attend work that day.

The romanticism around the Brave is obvious at present, but the statistics for last year’s team are daunting: 28 games, 2 wins, 1 shootout loss for 7 points (8% win percentage).

The Brave will be better than last year’s Knights, but at this stage a finals placing seems unlikely.