MELBOURNE, Australia – The Melbourne Mustangs have won their first Goodall Cup as champions of the Australian Ice Hockey League, crushing the Melbourne Ice 6-1 at the MediBank Icehouse.
A hat-trick from finals MVP Viktor Gibbs-Sjodin led the way for the ‘Stang, who finally got bragging rights over their “bigger brother” local rivals.
Goaltender Fraser Carson stopped 29 shots for the win, in a steady display for the regular season champions.
Coach Brad Vigon felt the team had lifted a curse by hoisting the Goodall Cup.
“I never expected to beat them like that,” said Vigon. “To win as comprehensively as we did, it’s really a testament to the effort they put in.
“When we played them during the season and lost, it almost felt like we had a bit of bad luck against them – like a curse – so for the guys to come out and play the way they did, and put everything on the line, it was awesome.”
The win was especially sweet for brothers Joseph and Vinnie Hughes, and captain Sean Jones, with the former Ice forwards having been influential in that clubs’ three-peat championship side from 2010 to 2012.
“This is massive [for the club] and to have Joey and Vinnie. They played in three finals each and provided cool, calm heads and were a calming influence in the warm-up.
“We’ve worked hard, worked as a team to get here. This is for every guy on the bench and everyone who sits in the stands to support us every game.”
Young gun Jamie Bourke (1G, 3A) and import Patrick O’Kane (1G, 1A) also starred for the Mustangs, with goals that swung momentum in their favour.
A cagey opening saw both sides struggle to gain the upper hand, before Gibbs-Sjodin broke the deadlock midway through the period. The Swedish import made a nifty power move from the corner with the Ice defence occupied, and wrapped the puck past goaltender Jayden Murphy.
While the Mustangs took a slender one-goal lead into the first break, the game really opened up after a strange incident early in the middle frame.
With the Ice on the power play, the Mustangs defence attempted to clear the zone, only for referee Rick West to get hit by the puck, causing him to leave the game with blood flowing from his mouth.
After the delay, and a replacement referee called in, the Ice looked to regain ascendency, but were caught flat-footed. Mustangs’ winger Bourke stole the puck off towering defenceman Jeff Smith from the ensuing face-off and raced in alone from the red line to snipe past Murphy.
With the Ice reeling, Gibbs-Sjodin nabbed his second of the game after a scramble in the Ice’s goal mouth.
Mustangs’ leading scorer O’Kane put his name on the scoresheet minutes later, after weaving his way through the neutral zone and ripping a wrist shot from the right point over Murphy’s shoulder.
The Ice rarely troubled Carson, with many shots easily snared by the netminder or fizzing wide. Winger Jason Baclig had the best chance to cut the deficit, but saw his shot sail over the gaping net with Carson out of position.
Gibbs-Sjodin sent hats cascading from the stands with his third goal early in the third period, and put to bed any thoughts of an Ice revival.
A goal from the Ice’s captain Lliam Webster was little consolation for his side, as Andrew Belic sealed the win with a deflection from Vinnie Hughes’ point shot, with less than three minutes left in the game.
“It’s sweet to win,” said Jones. “If you said there years ago we would win the cup, people would have laughed. We finished bottom of the table – I remember playing in Canberra and they were throwing wooden spoons at us – but a lot of hard work from Brad and the guys in the room and to win with the same core guys, is why we’ve been able to come so far in such short time.”
Despite leading his side to three consecutive championships, Webster said the loss still hurt.
“Whenever we’ve made it to the grand final previously we’ve won, so it’s not a nice feeling to lose,” he said.
Coming off their own 6-1 win over the Canberra Brave in the semi-final, Webster said complacency was not a factor in the loss.
“We didn’t have the jump that we wanted, and they played very well. They were very precise and clogged up the play.
“There was no feeling of complacency, but unfortunately in a one-game final, when you don’t show up 100 per cent on the day, you’re not gonna get the result.”
It has been another stellar year for the league, which has seen attendance and television viewership rise.
The Canberra Brave warrant a special mention having risen from the ashes of the defunct Canberra Knights to become the first team from the Australian capital to reach the finals. A consortium of players banded together to help save the team, and raised the necessary funds to gain a licence.
The expansion Perth Thunder also performed well in their third season, starting well, before tailing off.
AIHL commissioner Robert Bannerman has high hopes for the future of the league.
“We’re actively looking for teams and leadership for the state of Queensland and it’s been a banner season in terms of exposure, attendance and sponsorship,” said Bannerman.
“The numbers of people attending has dramatically increased, out television ratings are up, and our marketing partners and sponsors have made significant investment.”
Ice hockey has grown Down Under, thanks in part to the recognition and celebrity of Washington Capitals’ Australian draftee Nathan Walker, who was also in attendance at the finals series.
League MVP: Simon Barg, Sydney Ice Dogs
Australian Player of the Year: David Dunwoodie, Sydney Ice Dogs
Finals MVP: Viktor Gibbs-Sjodin, Melbourne Mustangs
Best Defenceman: Jack Wolgemuth, Melbourne Mustangs
Best Rookie: Jeremy Brown, Melbourne Ice
Best Goaltender: Petri Pitkanen, Canberra Brave
AIHL Regular Season Standings
1. Melbourne Mustang 54
2. Melbourne Ice 51
3. Canberra Brave 49
4. Sydney Ice Dogs 47
5. Adelaide Adrenaline 43
6. Newcastle North Stars 35
7. Perth Thunder 33
8. Sydney Bears 22
AIHL Finals Series
Semi-final 1: Melbourne Mustangs vs. Sydney Ice Dogs 6-4
Semi-final 2: Melbourne Ice vs. Canberra Brave 6-1
Grand final: Melbourne Mustangs vs. Melbourne Ice 6-1