MELBOURNE – The Sydney Ice Dogs have been crowned the Goodall Cup champions as winners of the Australian Ice Hockey League, defeating the Newcastle North Stars in the grand final 6-3.
Todd Stephenson had a game for the ages, scoring a hat trick for the Ice Dogs to cap a remarkable 2013 season, which saw the team finish on top of the standings for the first time.
The North Stars were hoping to claim the Cup at the Medibank Ice House in Melbourne for the first time since 2008, having previously lost in the final to the Melbourne Ice in each of the past two years.
But Ice Dogs goaltender Anthony Kimlin was a force in net, with a solid 29-save performance to claim the AIHL Finals MVP award, and lead his team to its first championship since 2004.
“This has been the culmination of a lot of hard work from the beginning of the season, both from players and management on down,” said Sydney coach Ron Kuprowsky.
Kimlin also collected silverware as Australian Player of the Year and best goaltender.
“He was the league’s premier player all season,” said Kuprowsky. “He played great all year and is a fantastic person to boot.
“This win showed we’re not just a team of imports and we’re developing our young players well.”
The 23-year-old netminder also played for the Australian men’s national team in three IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship events.
In a firmly-refereed affair, special teams play proved decisive, with seven of the nine goals coming with a player sin-binned.
Sydney’s Billy Cliff opened the scoring on the power play, before Stephenson bagged his first with a shorthanded marker.
Both Kimlin and North Stars netminder Olivier Martin made big saves in the opening period, and Newcastle’s Dominic Osman scored to halve the deficit just before the first intermission.
But in period two, Stephenson added his second goal to restore his side’s two-goal cushion.
The Ice Dogs moved clear in the third period, with Stephenson scoring his third, before Simon Barg bagged a brace to produce a 6-1 lead.
Osman added two more consolation goals for the North Stars, but the damage had been done.
“It’s obviously disappointing to lose three in a row, but the Ice Dogs deserved to win,” said Newcastle coach Garry Dore. “They played well, we just didn’t capitalize on our chances.”
Dore took solace in the fact his club had been to the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
“We’ve got very good young players coming through the system so I’m sure we will be back next year,” he said.
The AIHL marked a number of milestones this season. The Perth Thunder club made the playoffs in just its second season, and more significantly, a weekly match highlights package was broadcast on television.
“The growth that we’ve had this year has been phenomenal,” said AIHL Deputy Commissioner Alexandra Lata.
“We’ve signed a deal with Fox Sports and more sponsors have joined. Our viewer figures have been comparable to the NHL regular season ratings, and they didn’t drop off when their season finished.
“But also the quality of hockey has improved, our imports are getting better and better,” said Lata.
“Perth had an amazing year, even though they’re a new team. Crowds have packed their arena they had a lot of media coverage on the west coast. Additionally, the sport was given a boost with the appearance former NHLers in a USA versus Canada series.
“Our second Melbourne team, the Mustangs, saw quite a spike after that tournament, so it bodes well for the future,” said Lata.
The eight-team semi-professional league was established in 2000 and allows a maximum six import players per club. The Goodall Cup is the world’s third-oldest senior national hockey trophy still awarded, after the Stanley Cup and the Allan Cup.
League MVP: Jeff Martens, Newcastle North Stars
Australian Player of the Year: Anthony Kimlin, Sydney Ice Dogs
Finals MVP: Anthony Kimlin, Sydney Ice Dogs
Best Defenceman: John Gordon, Melbourne Ice
Best Rookie: Cameron Todd, Sydney Bears
Best Goaltender: Anthony Kimlin, Sydney Ice Dogs
The Sydney Ice Dogs celebrate after winning the final game. Photo: Mark Bradford / Wulos