There will be close, hard-fought contests and unpredictable results.
So say the experts about the 2018 Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL) Finals series to be played at O’Brien Group Arena, Saturday, March 17 and Sunday, March 18.
“Anything can happen on gameday, so each team has to be as prepared as possible. It keeps the competition interesting and challenging and everyone wondering who will walk away with the cup,” says high-scoring Sydney Sirens defender Amelia Matheson.
“The standings may have a gap but… nothing is a given. I expect everyone will be bringing their best and it's going to produce some exciting hockey,” says Brisbane Goannas head coach Terry Kiliwnik.
Adelaide Rush head coach Josef Rezek believes the teams are much more closely matched than last year and “anyone has a chance” to win this season.
And Melbourne Ice goaltender Jenelle Carson agrees, saying “come Finals time everyone finds a new gear and the level of intensity automatically lifts… anything could happen.”
Melbourne Ice Forward, Shona Powell prepares to unlease a slapshot. Photo courtesy of Kevin Phelan.
The weekend feast of Finals hockey, sponsored by the Victorian Government, also features the finale of the Under-21 Australian Junior Ice Hockey League, meaning a hockey tragic could soak in eight high-stakes contests over 12 hours on Saturday and for five hours on Sunday, for only $40.
Last year’s tight AWIHL series was highlighted by a thrilling double overtime shootout grand final victory by the Sydney Sirens over the Brisbane Goannas. Accordingly, preparation for the hectic Finals weekend is as much mental as physical.
Recalling the “stress and excitement” of last year’s series, Amelia says minor premier Sydney will focus on playing their own game “and being confident within ourselves and as a team”.
“Being strong from the first puck drop is key and making sure we don’t let any other team dictate our game”.
A Sydney Sirens winger holds off the defender at O'Brien Group Arena. Photo courtesy of Tania Chalmers.
Terry says his Goannas, so close to their first title last year, rely on united effort.
“With us it's our team mentality… everyone knows it's going to require a total team effort if we're going to be successful.
“Last year was the most successful in Goannas history and we know what it took to get there. Being prepared physically and confident as a team will be very important.”
Similarly, Josef holds that Adelaide Rush’s strength comes from its “very good mix of girls”. At Finals time, a cohesive team playing for each other can overcome better-performed opponents.
Jenelle says Ice must go in with a “clear and strong mindset”, stick to its game plan and change nothing heading into finals.
“We have all put in a lot of hard work over the past five months, on and off the ice. (Treat it) just like any other game, and if we implement exactly what we have practiced l think we can achieve great things…”
Jenelle, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels this Finals series will be a “battle of the goalies”.
“This season all four teams have a very strong last line of defence… the goalies have had some incredible games of hockey, making it very difficult to get pucks in the back of the net… if all four goalies are on their game it is going to make for a very interesting weekend!”
Aside from the net-minders, Jenelle believes depth of talent underpins Melbourne and Sydney and exciting emerging young players are galvanising Adelaide Rush and the Brisbane Goannas.
Josef notes that Ice have strong imports - which include league leading scorer Jessica Pinkerton – and a good structure; Brisbane has many players with AWIHL Finals experience; and Sydney has the league’s best goalie in Ella Licari.
Adelaide Rush and Melbourne Ice players face off. Photo courtesy of Richard Costello.
“They collapse in the zone well making it hard to get the puck through to the net. They would be the hardest team to read and break through their systems. Adelaide and Goannas both have strong goalies...”
Terry says of the Goannas line-up: “We have youth that are exciting to watch and veterans who know what it takes to be successful. A few of them are on the national team and they all know that work ethic is incredibly important and show it both on and off the ice.”
It has been a big year for the AWIHL, which has run a “tier two” program for emerging teams and exhibition matches featured the Perth Inferno. AWIHL administrator Mark Weber says crowds have been growing and the potential addition of Perth would make the league a true “coast-to-coast” competition, no mean feat for an amateur sport.
But back to the matter at hand: Which team will take out the AWIHL title?
Eric Brook, well-travelled AWIHL livestream commentator, says: “This season, all the teams have shown that on any given day, they can beat all other teams. Finals can be unpredictable in a tight competition. But while their 22-game winning streak was broken by the Ice, Sirens have the firepower and depth to become repeat champions.”
The Finals of the growing Australian Junior Ice Hockey League (AJIHL) will provide a great support act to the AWIHL Finals.
AJIHL Assistant Commissioner Warren Porter says the league, featuring mainly players aged 16-20, aims to become a “true farm league” to the successful Australian Ice Hockey League and to foster future Australian national men’s team representatives.
The six teams play in two conferences over a 15-game season. The Sydney Sabres, Sydney Wolfpack and Brisbane Blitz comprise the northern conference; the Melbourne Glaciers, Perth Sharks and Adelaide Generals make up the southern conference.
Each team is permitted to ice a pair of 21-year-olds in each game, and it is the “talented older kids”, often with AIHL experience, such as Melbourne’s Corey Stringer and Adelaide’s Zach Boyle, who set the pace.
Going into the big final round of games at O’Brien Group Arena on Friday, 16 March, which will determine the final four, Warren believes the in-form teams are the defending champions the Adelaide Generals and the Brisbane Blitz.
SATURDAY MARCH 17
11.30am: Australian Junior Ice Hockey League quarter-final 1
1.15pm: Australian Junior Ice Hockey League quarter-final 2
3pm: Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League semi-final 1 Sydney Sirens v Adelaide Rush
5.30pm: Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League semi-final 2 Melbourne Ice v Brisbane Goannas
7.45pm: Australian Junior Ice Hockey League semi-final 1
9.30pm: Australian Junior Ice Hockey League semi-final 2
SUNDAY MARCH 18
12.45pm: Australian Junior Ice Hockey League grand-final
2:30pm: Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League 3rd-Place Playoff
5pm: Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League Grand Final
O’Brien Group Arena, 105 Pearl River Road, Docklands
Adults: $25 per day or $40 weekend pass Children $12.50 per day or $20 weekend pass