At the half-way point of the season, with all but Perth having played 14 of their 28 games there are three distinct groups in the AIHL’s points ladder.
The Ice Dogs, North Stars and Ice have a healthy lead on the second group of four; the Mustangs, Thunder, Adrenaline and Bears all in the hunt for a Finals placing. The Canberra Knights are already on the edge of being eliminated from the playoffs with just two wins from their first fourteen games.
The Adrenaline and the Bears, of course, are finals regulars, and were the powerhouse teams of the early years in the Australian Ice Hockey League.
The Adrenaline have been in every finals series since they joined the league in 2009, and their legacy club, the Avalanche, were in every final with the exception of 2008 when their team folded mid-way through the season.
The Bears last contested the finals in 2010, finishing that season in third place.
The other two, the Mustangs and Thunder, are the new kids and have never experienced the pressure cooker thrill of a sudden death finals weekend, where the winner takes home the legendary Goodall Cup.
Where we go from here, and who will make the finals, has continued to remain unclear with all teams having a mixed bag of good and bad games. The Adrenaline, for example, proved that with consistency they can both make the finals and be a threat after defeating both the Ice Dogs and North Stars this weekend. Ten of their final fourteen games are in Adelaide.
The Adrenaline play the top performing team in the North Stars this weekend, a double-header of games that could make or break their season. After this weekend, the Adrenaline have games remaining against the Knights (3), Ice Dogs (3), Ice (2), Mustangs (2) and Thunder (2).
For the Mustangs, their home record of 57% is a positive but their away record of 33% is poor. The Mustangs will need to win more than then lose on road trips to Perth and Newcastle/Sydney (x2) if they are to make the finals. Should they do so, at least they can play on home ice on the 7th of September.
The Bears have a big X-factor in Renars Kazanovs, and five of their nine losses have been by only one goal. Including this weekend, the Bears have two double-headers versus the Melbourne teams, a weekend in Perth and then the rest in Sydney or Canberra.
The Perth Thunder, in only their second season, seem to be in the best position with the league’s top scorers. But as reported last week, the Thunder have had two imports head home and another soon to leave. The Thunder may be able to survive a similarly decimated Knights this weekend, but will need to replace any import players before the following weekend in Perth, on the 6th of July versus the Mustangs.
From the 13th of July on, it gets much harder for the Thunder, even if they have a full complement of new imports. From that point they have only four home games, with away trips to Newcastle/Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Their four home games are versus the North Stars and Bears.
To put it in the simplest terms, the team in the group of four who now wins significantly more games than they lose, will be at Melbourne’s AIHL Finals on September 6th.