Saturday, September 2, 2017 - Submitted by Lucas Miles
The Perth Thunder’s 2017 season has come to an disappointing end for their fans, losing 6-2 in a convincing win by the CBR Brave in the second Semi-Final of the 2017 AIHL Finals presented by Air Canada.
The Brave showed dominance at times, forcing the Thunder to battle to maintain momentum as they were made to defend against a potent offensive Brave line-up, but it was the Thunder’s penalties that cost them.
The first fifteen minutes of play saw both teams sizing up their opponents, measuring their pace of play as they traded chances at both ends but neither team finding the scoreboard.
Both teams seemed timid in the opening frame, with neither squad eager to give up the first goal, each played a conservative game during the initial 15 minutes of play.
With the first period over, Thunder Head Coach Dave Ruck seemed relatively happy with his team heading into the second nil-all.
“We gave up a few too many chances in the first period, but we just need to pick up the pace in the second and make sure we stay tight and don’t give anything up” Ruck said after the first period.
Perth Goaltender Peter Di Salvo was a standout in the early goings of the game, providing Perth with stability between the pipes while they found their feet as the Brave looked to push the pace of play. With the Thunder on the powerplay the Brave continued to push, forcing Di Salvo to make several notable saves, with the Brave looking equally as comfortable playing shorthanded as they did five-on-five.
After what was a slow start to what had been anticipated as a fast paced game, the second period saw the tempo rise as both teams managed to find their feet.
The Brave were the first to get on the board with Stephen Blunden finally beating Di Salvo with a backhand off the faceoff that looked like it had eyes: beating the Perth goaltender high over his shoulder.
The goal sparked life from both sides and it was the Thunder that answered with a highlight-reel goal from Christian Ouellet as he levelled the scores at one.
With both teams now on the board, the game found another gear and teams exchanged chances as well as penalties. Robert Haselhurst took the first key penalty after hitting Blunden from behind, which ultimately lead to a goal from Brian Bales to give Canberra the lead 2-1 with 20 minutes left in play.
Brave Head Coach Rob Starke felt his team commanded the play throughout the second, but knew the Thunder would not concede the win easily.
“We found a way to tilt the ice in that second period, and tonight we wanted to play a defense first mentality,” said Starke.
“Really though, we need to get another one before we feel like we have a comfortable gap.”
The third period saw the game continue with the pace of the second left off. Jessyko Bernard buried a goal to tie the game up and keep both teams on edge in the early goings.
From there however, the tables turned in favour of the Brave, who came back to score three unanswered goals in the opening few minutes of the final frame. The Brave’s Dominic Jalbert started the Thunder’s downfall with sustained pressure, before teammate Jan Safar scored on the powerplay just minutes later to put the team up by two.
Blunden was a standout for the Brave on the night, scoring his second of the game a few minutes later to put the Brave ahead by three goals, 5-2, and push the West Australian team to the brink of elimination.
The Thunder conceded several penalties in the third with the team’s discipline being questioned as frustration kicked in for the Perth team who struggled to contain the Brave in the final 20 minutes.
The final goal was scored by Geordie Wudrick, who buried an empty netter to seal the Brave’s second straight trip to the Goodall Cup Final.
The Brave now take on the Melbourne Ice after they beat the Melbourne Mustangs in the previous Semi-Final, meaning one the AIHL’s most heated rivalries will be renewed on the highest level with everything on the line for both teams.
The Brave will need to continue the confidence gained in their win against Perth – a team the Canberra side had not beaten in regular season.
The top line of Wudrick, Blunden, and Bales will surely play a crucial part in the Championship game. Expect to see both teams trying to establish themselves early.
The Thunder will head home after their third straight Semi-Final defeat.
Costly penalties proved the team’s Achilles heel which the Brave were able to exploit.
Di Salvo remained solid for the Thunder despite the final result, making some key saves early in the game. Yet Brave keeper Aleksi Toivonen was able to stand tall and match the talented Perth goaltender: giving his team the confidence to push the play and force the Thunder on the back foot.
For the Brave, it will take heart as well as discipline to take on a very skilful and physical Melbourne squad who looked comfortable on the league’s biggest stage with their victory against the Mustangs today.
Fans can expect the great hockey to continue in the pursuit of the Goodall Cup.
Tune into the 2017 AIHL Grand Final game at 3pm AEST on AIHL Live.