On Sunday night the Newcastle North Stars lost their first home game to the Canberra Knights in more than five years. The loss was embarrassing for a team that looked deadly eight days prior when they defeated the Perth Thunder 13-2.
Not since the 3-2 defeat of the North Stars on Sunday the 27th of April in 2008 have the Knights taken any points out of Hunter Ice Skating Stadium.
Unlike the 2008 defeat, the North Stars had all but a complete team last Sunday, and all four imports.
Where one win would have had them in first place, the two losses knocked Newcastle down to third place in the AIHL’s points table.
The Canberra Knights celebrated like it was a milestone win, and considering their record in Newcastle, it was.
For Garry Doré, practices this week will need to provide a spark, a change, and a direction that was missing in the last two games.
Juggling player availability is a challenge every coach must face. Fortunately for the coach, he has his deepest ever roster to choose from.
This weekend the North Stars must face the Mustangs and Ice in Melbourne, low on confidence after being beaten by teams that have been easy targets for the North Stars in the past few seasons.
Doré is down two defenceman, and will lose attacking power up front if he moves Osman to the blue line.
It’s far from game over for the North Stars, though. On Sunday they peppered Slauenwhite with 17 shots in the third period – as much as one often sees in three periods – plus numerous block shots and misses. The Knights used the simple plan of collapsing around the net, using long arms and sticks to block passing lanes, and anticipating some “sameness” about the North Stars attack to interrupt their plays.
It may be a simple problem to be fixed by a few tactical tweaks. Options may include modifying the breakout to counter the neutral zone trap, use the players’ speed and strength to dominate the boards in the attacking zone, and support the breakout by being available for shorter passes.
Whatever methods the North Stars apply, they’ll need to get it working smoothly by Saturday 18th May, or risk another two losses that will put them below the .500 mark and into the dogfight for a top four placing.