The team coaches and GMs of the finals-bound top four teams are reviewing their players, lines and goaltending options.
Sydney Ice Dogs
The Ice Dogs have been the most consistent team from June on. In April and May the Dogs were taking around 50% of available points, but only lost two from seven games in June, two from six in July and so far are four from four in August.
They still play their trademark North/South game, but have tempered their weakness for PIMs with a restrained aggression that’s working wonders for them.
The Dogs were looking shaky early in the season, even after the inclusion of Australian team goalie and former Blue Tongue, Anthony Kimlin.
In June/July/August, however, the Ice Dogs have claimed 39 out of 51 available points and Kimlin holds the best season-long save% of 91.7.
The Dogs are deep on experience in defence with English import Paddy Ward supported by Australian reps David Dunwoodie, Tomas Manco and Anthony Wilson. Daniel Spina and Shannon McGreggor have also had good seasons in 2013.
Matt Puntereri went on a solo mission to the top of the AIHL scoring ladder in June/July, but now the talented Simon Barg has overtaken him in scoring. Captain Robert Malloy grounds his team and is a great leader for the upcoming finals.
Billy Cliff and Todd Stephenson have also been potent for the Ice Dogs, with 30 points between them in 2013, so far.
Not many weaknesses are visible for the Ice Dogs, apart from their dependence on Anthony Kimlin. If Kimlin is hurt or somehow unavailable, the Ice Dogs will be relying on the Dylan Burgess, who has played one AIHL game since April.
The Ice Dogs can still lose their cool and take bad penalties. However, overall it’s largely positives for the Ice Dogs with great depth, goaltending and imports.
Unconfirmed reports have the Ice Dogs down an import player. This seems unlikely, as all four played last Saturday.
Newcastle North Stars
The North Stars started the season on fire, but faltered in June/July with some losses to bottom-four teams that others teams were beating.
Their form hasn’t been all that bad, never dropping out of the top four and with a strong record versus the top four teams.
The North Stars have the other Australian team goalie, Olivier Martin, anchoring their net. Like Kimlin, Martin has played the vast majority of game minutes this season, although backup Josh Broekman plays the starting role for the reserve East Coast Super League North Stars team.
The North Stars have picked up a great talent and team contributor in John Kennedy Jr. The North Stars continue to enjoy the experience of Rob Starke, and Matt Lindsay has been joined by former forward and former Rhino Jayson Chalker, and his teammate Stuart Cole-Clark.
The North Stars have their deepest ever forward pack, with three of the league’s best imports (Cotnoir, Osman, Martens), three of the league’s best Aussies (Taylor, Geric, Upton) plus more than a line of great young players.
The North Stars also have the league’s most experienced AIHL Finalist in Captain Ray Sheffield, who’s played in 19 of the 23 Finals in the entire history of the AIHL.
There’s also the small matter of Sheffield having won four championships, Starke three, and Martin two.
The North Stars have been great at come-from-behind wins, but have had to do it too often due to lethargic starts. When behind, they can find themselves doing too much with the puck. Their overhandling has them firing off ineffective shots when they do get opportunities.
In their favour, they have the vast experience in Sheffield having won four championships, Starke three, and Martin two.
Melbourne Ice are still considered the team to beat by the other team coaches. Despite a form slump lately, they remain a deeply talented side, with a hulking blue line sending in life-threatening slap shots from the point.
Dahlen Phillips’ first season as starter is going OK. He has a great side in front of him, including two huge and hugely experienced import defencemen.
Kiwi international Jaden Pine-Murphy has had eight starts and has a lower GAA & Save% than Phillips, an indicator they the Ice have a worthy backup to rely on.
The defensive top four of Gordon, Frank, Graham and Wong is the best in the league. They give the Ice a killer power play.
The Ice are hurting for depth since the departure of Joey Hughes, but have still managed to win more than they lose since.
Assuming the Ice have Armstrong healthy for the finals, their young stars and inspirational captain Jason Baclig will make them a strong pick for their fourth consecutive championship in a row.
Despite the loss of Hughes, they still have Aussie veterans Lliam Webster and Tommy Powell.
The Ice’s strength is a weakness, their stacked defence leaves them lacking depth in their forwards. If an opposition can shut down Armstrong and Baclig’s line, the job could be too big for the Webster/Powell line without Joey Hughes.
Dahlen Phillips hasn’t been as good as advertised, currently placed 11th amongst AIHL goalies on save percentage with 85.8%
The Thunder have had to adapt three times this season to personnel changes, and will do so again now they are without Kevin Darcy. Before his arrival the Thunder had won only three of eight games.
In the eighteen games where Darcy played, the Thunder won thirteen.
Stan Scott had to take the heat on reneging on a deal with Michael Smart in order to install import Dan Clarke. While it wasn’t popular at the time, Clarke has been a big difference-maker, winning seven from eleven games (one a shootout loss) while he’s been in net.
As mentioned above, the Thunder are missing some depth in defence follow Kevin Darcy’s return back to his US College team. Their blue line is a veteran line, notably Del Basso, Lamb, Kudla and Hoffman.
Late inclusions Dan Mohle and Brian Berger have teamed up beautifully with last year’s Thunder MVP Ken Rolph. The Thunder have had good secondary scoring from Kyros, Cox and Bremmer, scoring 47 points between them.
Now they have sewn up the nets with Dan Clarke and replaced Michael Forney with Mohle and Berger, the Thunder are looking pretty good except for at the blue-line.
Some teams have cracked open the Thunder by matching their speedy players against slower Thunder defencemen.