MELBOURNE/AUCKLAND – Melbourne Ice in Australia and the Botany Swarm in New Zealand defended their titles as the hockey season in the southern hemisphere came to an end.
Melbourne Ice won the Goodall Cup as the champion of the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) for the second straight year.
After winning the regular season, Melbourne hosted the final tournament with the semi-finals and the final. Melbourne defeated the Adelaide Adrenaline, 8-3, while Newcastle beat the Sydney Ice Dogs, 5-2, to advance to the final.
It was Newcastle’s Peter Cartwright, who opened the scoring in this winner-take-all game after seven minutes of play. Melbourne bounced back when Matt Armstrong tied the game one three-and-a-half minutes later, then Joseph Hughes gained the lead for Melbourne after two minutes in the middle stanza, and Lliam Webster made it 3-1 with 4:35 left in regulation time.
Newcastle’s Justin Chwedoruk capitalized on a power play with two minutes remaining and the North Stars pushed hard, pulling the goalie for an extra skater, but Stu Denman didn’t let in another goal. 1,500 fans in a packed Medibank Icehouse celebrated their team’s second consecutive championship.
Melbourne and national team forward Hughes was named MVP of the AIHL finals. The Melbourne Ice are the first team to defend their title since Newcastle had won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. Melbourne also became the first regular-season winner that succeeded in the playoffs for nine years.
Some 2,600 kilometres away in New Zealand, the Botany Swarm hosted the NZIHL’s Grand Final where the Swarm claimed their fourth championship in five years and the second in a row. The team from the Auckland region defeated the Southern Stampede of Queenstown 5-3.
The game remained scoreless until late in the first period when Melbourne’s Josh Hay hammered the puck into the net with a slap shot, but Swedish forward Adnan Mlivic tied the game before the first intermission.
Simon Glass gained the lead for the guests three minutes into the third period, but the Botany Swarm reacted. Former Estonian national team player Alexander Polozov, who was named MVP, tied the game at two. KC Ball regained the lead for Botany a few moments later, and Brian Moseley made it 4-2 for the home squad.
Brett Speirs cut the lead with six minutes left, but Polozov scored another goal to seal the win.
Botany hosted the final as the winner of the 16-round regular season. The Southern Stampede came second with the same amount of points as the Canterbury Red Devils.
The leagues in Australia and New Zealand will also come closer and run a joint competition as of next year: the Trans-Tasman Champions League (TTCL). Melbourne Ice and the Newcastle North Stars from Australia, and the Botany Swarm and the Southern Stampede from New Zealand will play in the round-robin event in early 2012 in Melbourne. The 2013 TTCL will be staged in New Zealand.
This year there were five teams in the New Zealand Ice Hockey League and eight in the Australian Ice Hockey League, although a ninth, Perth Thunder, could be joining next year.
“We are hoping to sell out the Ice House in Melbourne and have the income shared between the AIHL and NZIHL. This will allow us to finance the trip to Australia,” Günther Birgel, the General Manager of the NZIHL, told IIHF.com after his meeting with the AIHL Chairman Tyler Lovering.
While joining forces for the TTCL, Birgel hopes that the leagues can be merged one day.
“We could have three teams from New Zealand competing, i.e. one team each from Auckland, Christchurch and the Southern Region consisting of Dunedin and Queenstown,” Birgel said. “The problem will be the budget for each one of those teams, which will be about the same as we have now for the whole NZIHL.”
For now, ice hockey fans in the area can be excited for cross-league rivalry between the Tasman Sea in next year’s four-team series.