NEWCASTLE, Australia – The Melbourne Ice are the 2012 Australian Ice Hockey League champions capturing the Goodall Cup for a remarkable third consecutive year, after defeating the Newcastle North Stars 4-3 in the Grand Final.
In front of a parochial home crowd, the North Stars took a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to goals from Beau Taylor and Brian Bales.
Matt Armstrong halved the deficit for the Ice late in the frame and Melbourne surged in the second period.
Veteran Lliam Webster tied the game and with 58 seconds to go, Canadian import Jason Baclig picked up the puck and scored on a diving shot giving the visitors a 3-2 lead – one they would not surrender.
Webster added a second goal in the final period, but the North Stars clawed a goal back through Kevin Day.
Both teams employed a physical style and the third period was tightly-fought contest. But the Ice’s goaltender Stu Denman stood tall as the Victorian side held on for a famous victory, clinching their third championship in a row – a first in Australian ice hockey.
Melbourne coach Paul Watson praised his players’ fight-back against the regular season champion North Stars, who finished one point ahead of the Ice in the standings.
“They are extremely worthy opponents,” Watson said. “The result could have gone either way. They had it over us in the first period but we clawed back.”
The North Stars’ coach Gary Dore was understandably disappointed with the loss, but vowed to return to the big stage next year.
“We didn’t get the breaks,” he said. “We hit a few posts and had a few lapses. It was just one of those games.”
Goalie Olivier Martin and Rob Lawrance were standout performers for the North Stars.
Watson said keeping the Ice players focused was a key challenge in winning three Cups in a row. He was reluctant to highlight any one player, but singled out the performances of Webster, Joey Hughes and Playoff MVP Todd Graham as key cogs during the dynasty.
“It was great to win in 2010 and that set the platform for 2011,” he said. “And we just knew we could win this year. We had the determination.”
During this season, the Melbourne players and coaching staff also had to deal with the added distractions of a film crew following their exploits for the six-part documentary ‘The ICE Road to 3PEAT’.
“The documentary really showcases the passion that comes from amateur hockey,” Watson said. “The commitment required is huge, especially the travel.”
AIHL Commissioner Tyler Lovering hailed the success of the 2012 season, which accomplished a number of firsts for the league.
For the first time, the AIHL welcomed a team from Western Australia, in the expansion Perth Thunder, which enabled the implementation of a new two-conference format. Additionally, new sponsorship has helped grow the league.
“We ticked a number of boxes this year,” said Lovering. “The addition of mainstream media coverage, the Trans-Tasman Championships, and the new conference format have been very well received by the teams.”
The semi-professional AIHL now boasts a nine team competition in a 24-game season, with Newcastle, the Sydney Ice Dogs, Canberra Knights and Sydney Bears in the Bauer Conference, and the Melbourne Ice, Perth Thunder, Adelaide Adrenaline, Melbourne Mustangs and Gold Coast BlueTongues in the Easton Conference.
“The Perth team has performed very well. They’ve had sell-out crowds, the organisation has been fantastic and they have a lot of local talent in the team,” said Lovering.
“There will obviously be growing pains but the key now is to maintain our growth.”
AIHL Award winners:
MVP: Tie between Newcastle’s Jeremy Boyer and Sydney Bears’ Tomas Landa
Both on 58 points, (Boyer 25 goals, 33 assists. Landa 19 goals, 39 assists.)
Top goaltender: Anthony Kimlin, Gold Coast Blue Tongues (GAA 2.25, Save percentage 93.5)
Top Defenceman: Rob Lawrance, Newcastle North Stars (33 points, 5 goals, 28 assists)
Rookie of the Year: Tied between the Adelaide Adrenaline’s Charlie Huber (10 points, 4 goals, 6 assists) and Blue Tongues Greg Bay (11 points, 5 goals, 6 assists).
Playoff MVP: Todd Graham, Melbourne Ice.