Friday, April 18, 2014 - Submitted by Andrew McMurtry
When the Melbourne Mustangs joined the AIHL in 2011, there were suggestions that there wasn’t enough talent to have two strong teams based in the Victorian capital. In recent battles between the two teams, it's been clear that the exact opposite is true, with results including the Mustangs first regular time victory over the Ice and a 4-3 squeaker that ended the Mustangs' chances in 2013.
The Mustangs' inaugural season was strong, winning 10 games, including two shootout victories. In these wins was the younger Melbournians beating their cross-town rivals in the second derby 5-4 in a shootout. However, after a forgettable 2012, last season was the breakout for the Mustangs, finishing a strong fifth in a competitive season.
The Ice, on the other hand, has been the team to beat for the past four years at least. In fact, the Ice haven’t missed a finals series since 2005 and showed with the three-peat that they are the real deal.
With both teams taking on the reigning AIHL champions the Sydney Ice Dogs in week one with vastly different results, form is still hard to gauge. The Ice has up to six players returning from Australian duty as well as Jayden Pine-Murphy, who represented New Zealand at the Division II Group B World Championships. It remains to be seen how the Ice will deal with their goaltending situation, including Swedish import Gustaf Huth and new recruit Rick Ashton.
The Mustangs also have Fraser Carson and Brendan McDowell returning from national team duty. McDowell scored four points from five games at the World Championships and will return full of confidence from his first World Championship experience.
Having now faced each other 12 times, the Melbourne derby has grown to point that the battle between these teams is always a sell out. As well as the interest from supporters all round the league and the fact this is the only AIHL game to be played this weekend, the hype around this game is palpable.
Historically, there are several lessons that can be learnt by both sides of the equation:
Despite the hunger for this match up, the Ice have been the dominant team over the past three years, scoring 59 goals to 30 in head-to-head battles.
Historically, the Mustangs need to be wary of the Ice’s start. The Ice score 36% of their goals in the first period of Melbourne match ups, while the Mustangs score 27%.
However, the Ice should watch out for the Mustangs in the third period. The Mustangs score a massive 43% of their goals in the derbies in the final period.
There is a big hole left by Jamie Bourke being suspended for the match. Currently the highest scorer for the Mustangs in derbies with six points, he will be missed. Pat O'Kane will shoulder a fair amount of expectations having scored five points in his four games against the Ice. He currently has three goals with two on powerplay and one shorthanded.
All eyes will be on the Hughes brothers in their first regular season outing against their former club. While wearing Ice colours, Joey claimed 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in eight matches. It will be an interesting proposition as to whether he can reproduce those numbers as a Mustang.
The Ice still has several options that have been exceptionally effective against the men in orange and black. Tommy Powell has 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in nine matches and Lliam Webster has 13 points (six goals, seven assists), also in nine matches.
The big scorers for the Ice against the Mustangs come in the form of long-term imports Jason Baclig and Matt Armstrong. Baclig has scored an incredible 17 goals and 29 points in just 11 games, while Armstrong compiled 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in his twelve games. Between the two of them, they have scored 53% of the Ice’s goals against the Mustangs and will be essential if the Ice want to continue their strong record against their cross-town rivals.
In front of a capacity crowd at the Medibank Ice House and regardless of the scores last weekend, this game should go down to the wire with three of the four games last season coming down to the final minutes. Judging by the strength of the two camps, it appears that there was more than enough talent to go around.