Thursday, August 28, 2014 - Submitted by Tina Girdler
The MOAT: Melbourne Mustangs aren’t looking to rest on their laurels as first time H. Newman Reid Trophy recipients for minor premiers of the regular season. With one trophy in their coffers already, they’ll be looking to finalise their strong season with the AIHL’s ultimate award, the Goodall Cup.
Mustang’s coach Brad Vigon couldn’t have been more pleased with his team’s efforts throughout the season.
“I’m super proud of all the guys,” Vigon said. “They’ve put in a lot of hard work and we’ve had our ups and downs this season but to finish and win the minor premiership is just an awesome achievement by this group of guys.”
In the league, minor premiers historically have won both prizes 35.7% of the time, equal odds with that of the second place team, which positions both Melbourne teams in prime position over the contending threats of the CBR Brave and Sydney Ice Dogs. Fourth place teams have a surprising 20.0% chance of usurping higher placed teams. With the Ice Dogs reigning cup champions, the Mustang’s know they’re in for a battle.
Mustang’s alternate captain, Pat O’Kane wants to see the team leave it all out on the ice.
“It’s a one-game season now so play an entire 50 minutes,” O’Kane said. “Give it everything we have and see how we go.”
Both teams have met four times this season with the regular season series ending at a draw with home games the defining factor for teams. Three out of four games were played in the early weeks of the season with their final meeting last weekend a test of might against might in a fantastic display of ice hockey that could have gone either way.
“It was a hard hitting, physical game and it always is in Liverpool because you’ve got a little smaller ice surface so they’re able to play a high pressure, high intensity game,” Vigon said. “We always know they’re going to bring a physical game like that and they gave us what we expected.”
The physical match up was visible not only in both teams finishing checks to the appreciation of the crowd, but also with the constant presence of either team in the penalty box. Both teams have similar conversion rates for their power play with a key difference in their penalty kill rates. The Mustang’s have a noticeably better penalty kill at 82.6% and were a league second with 83.3% on home ice. With the Sydney Ice Dogs the most penalized team in the league at 671 PIM, the Mustang’s lower 504 PIM and strong PK could see them looking to start strong as they have not lost in regulation when leading after two periods. Sydney Ice Dogs are notorious in the third period for their high scoring and resilience to defeat but the Mustang’s are prepared to stick to their game plan.
“We can’t worry about them; we just need to worry about how we play,” O’Kane said. “We’ll work hard this week in practice so we’ll just do our best. We know they have some forwards that take off pretty quick so we need to make sure we’re covering guys off draws and just bring everything we have. We have a pretty solid team in that locker room so we’ll just bring it.”
The Ice Dog’s have high powered forwards like the league’s leading scorer, Simon Barg with their top four scorer’s accounting for an astounding 67.9% of points for the team.
The MOAT: Melbourne Mustangs don’t have the offensive prowess of the Ice Dog’s top line but the depth of their line up could be a defining factor if the top lines cancel each other out. The top six point producers for the Mustang’s account for 71.4% of team points and two of those forwards were away at last Sunday’s match up. Leading forwards Jamie Bourke (15 goals for 33 points) and Viktor Gibbs Sjödin (13 goals for 29 points) are easily more then a point per game producers and could be an X-factor for the Mustang’s come Saturday afternoon.
One question that remains for the Mustang’s may be the goaltender in net. Fraser Carson has been the primary net minder and sits at second in the league with a 2.98 GAA and a .892 SV%. Although he holds similar numbers to back-up Michael James with an advantage on GAA, coach Vigon may ride the hot hand after James’ impressive .966 SV% display on Saturday against the Newcastle North Stars.
“Not really sure about that yet,” Vigon said. “I’ll have to go away and have a talk with [Mark Connolly] and see which way we want to go with it.”
Looking at the last three games played by both, James has a higher save percentage at .914 SV% compared to Carson’s .872 SV% though the differing level of competition could rule this moot. With Carson playing three out of the four games against the Ice Dogs for a combined .842 SV% and 4.0 GAA expect to see him in net though the Mustang’s have James ready if necessary.
Coach Vigon has been training the team hard this week but it quietly confident with where their current game stands.
“I don’t know that we’re looking to change too much,” Vigon said. “We’ve got to tighten up a few things but overall I like the way we’re playing right now.”
If Sunday’s game is any indication, expect to see a high intensity, physical game of playoff style hockey with the puck dropping at 3pm for the first semi-final of the AIHL final series at the Medibank Icehouse.
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