Perhaps it’s a cliché to say that the following weekend is “the biggest round of the season”, but there’s plenty of evidence to support that claim.
The Knights and the Bears are all but eliminated from Finals contention, requiring near-perfect records from here with other results to their benefit. The other six teams are well in the race for the four final places to go to Melbourne in September.
Several teams are in flux, having had mid-season changes to line ups that are often yet untested.
The Perth Thunder have plucked three NCAA players from North America in a rush. The problem for the Thunder is that they have built their game around Michael Forney.
Forney has had a significant impact on the league, with a league-high PPG of 2.9. In last weekend’s games in Newcastle and Sydney, Forney was the setup guy in breakouts and scored some coast-to-coast goals all alone.
The North Stars were fortunate to escape Saturday’s game with a shootout win, and the Thunder went on to beat the Ice Dogs on Sunday. “Magic Mike” lifted the Thunder into serious Goodall Cup contention in 2013.
Forney’s 2.9PPG is better than it sounds. There have been no huge wins for the Thunder in his time in the AIHL. The biggest game for Forney was his 6 points versus the Mustangs in the 9-3 June win.
In other words, Michael Forney was a difference-maker for Perth. This weekend they face an immediate test against the North Stars in W.A., without their go-to guy.
On the subject of the Ice, they too have a significant weekend ahead of them. Every game since the departure of the Hughes boys has been versus the Knights and Bears, with the final game of those two series being played in Canberra on Saturday night.
The Ice game versus the Ice Dogs in Liverpool on Sunday will be the true “post-Hughes” litmus test. McKenzie is fitting in nicely with Baclig & Armstrong, but the line he came from will be poorer without him.
While the Mustangs have had the benefit of a solid line-up all season, the Adrenaline, like the Thunder, have had to slip a couple of quick picks into their import line up to see them through the season.
While the Ouelette brothers were leading play-makers and scorers for the Adrenaline, a deep vein of local talent from Oddy, Darge & defencemen Harding & Huxley leave the team less vulnerable to change.
Nevertheless, the Adrenaline must win both games versus the Mustangs this weekend to expect a reasonable chance of getting into the 2013 Finals.
All teams get a run this weekend, and the Sydney local derby has the Ice Dogs heading North to Baulkham Hills to take on the Sydney Bears.
Seasons are on the line this weekend. With eight games being played six locations around the AIHL involving all eight teams, there is high-tension hockey available for everyone.