Thursday, June 28, 2012 - Submitted by Erin Byrnes
The Melbourne Ice will get the chance to add to their already bulging trophy cabinet next week as one of the two teams representing the AIHL in the inaugural Trans-Tasman Champions League, July 7-8.
The red hot Ice are reigning back to back Goodall Cup champions, and with a 9-2 record this season, sit first place in the Easton Conference and are strong contenders for a three-peat.
Melbourne has conquered all comers in Australian hockey in recent years, finishing no lower than third place in the past six seasons, and Ice coach Paul Watson is looking forward to the chance to test themselves against New Zealand’s best.
“There’s a great sporting rivalry between the two countries,” he said.
“We could play a game of marbles against the Kiwis and it’d be a good contest – but it’s always in good spirit.”
Watson said the Ice will use the matches against New Zealand’s Southern Stampede and Botany Swarm to throw some of the Melbourne Ice Academy players into the spotlight.
“From our perspective, we certainly want to win but we see this is a great opportunity to develop our younger players,” he said.
“That’s not taking anything away from Trans-Tasman Cup – we’re honoured to be taking part – but we see it as a development.”
Watson said with the games played under a three by 20 minute period format, the Ice have the room to play a fourth line that will consist of their up and comers.
Ice fans can expect to see young guns Caleb Butler and Nick McIver get some generous ice time, while the club is seeking clarification whether 15-year-old junior Australian representative Sam Hodic will be able to play.
Earlier this year Hodic competed in the Individual Ice Hockey Skills Challenge at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic games held in Innsbruck, Austria, where he represented Australian ice hockey in the men’s event.
“It’s a good chance for them to get the sensation of playing in front of a good crowd against good opposition,” Watson said.
“We’re playing three 20 minute stop time periods, real hockey, so that’s essentially a whole extra period to look at players that sit on the cusp.
“We want to expose them.
“We’ll get to challenge our youth and give them a stage to show their wares. It can only improve our depth and make us stronger,” he said.
While the Melbourne Ice has no idea what to expect tactically from their unknown opponents, one thing they can look forward to is a hard contest.
“When Australia plays New Zealand in the Worlds, you know that no matter the score, the New Zealand team never never gives up, even when there’s 30 seconds to go – that’s what we know we can expect from the NZ teams.”
“Tactically, I can’t plan for how they’re going to play, but what I can plan is how we play, so we’ll have some systems and structures in place, and re-assess from there.”
Watson said with the games being played at the Melbourne Icehouse, he expects the vocal and passionate Melbourne Ice crowd to be out in force – something that will give his side a distinct advantage and a big boost.
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