The Melbourne Mustangs have defeated the defending champion CBR Brave 1-0 in a nail-biting Goodall Cup Final at the O’Brien Icehouse on Sunday afternoon, to take their second Goodall Cup and their first since their inaugural championship in 2014.
A second period goal from captain Brendan McDowell and a shutout from goaltender Liam Hughes was the difference for the Mustangs, in a thrilling contest that featured many chances at both ends despite some outstanding goaltending from both Hughes and Brave netminder Aleksei Toivonen.
Hughes made 33 stops on all 33 shots in the win, while Toivonen went 21 from 22 shots. Hughes was named AIHL Finals MVP after back-to-back shutouts on the weekend, holding the Sydney Bears at bay 4-0 in the semi-final.
It marked the first shutout in an AIHL Grand Final since 2006 when the Newcastle Northstars defeated the Adelaide Avalanche 4-0.
It was the second meeting between the Brave and the Mustangs in the post-season. The only other match-up resulted in a 5-1 semi-final victory to the Brave on their way to their first Goodall Cup in 2018. The league-leading Brave, awarded the H Newman Reid Trophy this year, advanced to the final after dispatching the Perth Thunder 4-1 in a close semi-final.
The game also featured a battle between the league’s two top scorers, Scott Timmins and Austin Albrecht, who were both kept off of the scoresheet except for an assist for Timmins on the McDowell goal.
The Brave outshot the Mustangs in every period and had several quality chances, but could not find a way past Hughes and had to ward off some intense Mustangs checking throughout.
After going scoreless in a high-intensity opening 20 minutes, which saw an early Mustangs’ power play negated by the Brave following a high-sticking minor to Tyler Kubara, the lone goal of the game would not eventuate until midway through the second stanza.
After a neutral zone takeaway by Timmins, McDowell got a pass from Chris Lawrence, slipped the puck between the feet of Casey Kubara and then fired a wrist shot upstairs on Toivonen, to give the Mustangs the lead with 9:47 remaining in the second period.
It would turn out to be the only goal of the game and the one that delivered the Melbourne side it’s second Goodall Cup.
Arguably the best chance of the game for the Brave fell to Albrecht with 5:29 remaining in the second, when he snuck by the Mustangs during a line change and found himself alone on a breakaway thanks to a timely stretch pass from Casey Kubara. Albrecht uncharacteristically put the resulting shot wide of Hughes and the score would remain 1-0 to the Mustangs after 40 minutes of hockey.
The Brave threw everything they had at the Mustangs in the third period, with Albrecht, Casey Kubara, Matt Harvey, Carson Vance and Felix Plouffe all having quality chances denied by Hughes in net. The Mustangs defensive corps held firm in their own end, led by AIHL Defenceman of the Year Ty Wishart and outstanding efforts from Jack Carpenter and Michael McMahon.
Mustangs’ fans held their breath later in the third period after Max Astafiyev was given a minor for participating in the play after losing his helmet following a check. However, the Mustangs’ penalty kill withstood the ensuing Brave barrage and kept the score at 1-0.
Toivonen was pulled for an extra skater after a timeout called by Brave head coach Stu Philps, with just 1:56 remaining in regulation. The Mustangs held on for the last 116 seconds despite a valiant effort from the Brave to force the game into overtime.
Mustangs captain McDowell, one of a few players left remaining from the 2014 team, praised the effort of the club throughout the year.
“It’s unbelievable. The club is made up of so many different characters and it’s just an unbelievable highlight in all of our lives that we’ll remember forever,” McDowell said. The on-ice intensity during the playoffs was also memorable.
“It was a whole other level. Playoff hockey is much more physical and you have much less time with the puck, it is a totally different feel to the regular season.”
“The Sydney Bears made our lives hard in the semi-final but the CBR Brave are a very good team and they’ve got a lot of depth and they just keep coming at you in waves, so credit to them as they had a great year.”
Mustangs’ alternate captain Sean Jones, who last lofted the Goodall as captain in the 2014 campaign, said the second cup was better than the first. “It feels even better the second time, you appreciate how hard it actually is to get here,” Jones said.
“Especially how hard we tried after that first title, which was kind of surreal and you kind of think it’s going to happen every year. It took us nearly ten years to get back here.” The Mustangs are now 4-3 in the AIHL post-season all-time and 2-0 in Goodall Cup Final appearances, previously defeating their crosstown rivals the Melbourne Ice 6-1 in 2014.