AIHL: Ice on fire, and some loud noise

Mustangs Jamie Bourke goes on attack v the Ice (photo: Davis Harrigan)
Mustangs Jamie Bourke goes on attack v the Ice (photo: Davis Harrigan)

At the Medibank Icehouse on Saturday, May 10, I witnessed what was quite easily the best game of ice hockey I have ever watched – albeit from a handful of matches.

The Melbourne Ice and Melbourne Mustangs – perhaps the two strongest teams in the competition – took full flight in front of a capacity crowd.  In such an enclosed space, the noise was deafening, even on the other side of the rink snapping photos.

What mesmerised me throughout the game was the intensity.  The Ice are the benchmark in the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL), sitting on top of the ladder.  That being said, the Mustangs are not far behind; just a few lapses in concentration allowed the Ice to penetrate and score.

Pat O’Kane, Jack Wolgemuth, Fraser Carson and Andrew Fitzgerald were four players I really got to see step up and take it to the Ice.  Granted, there were plenty more putting in 110%, but these are the four who just would not go away.

From the photographer’s area, however, I was unfortunately distracted.  Fans come to the game to enjoy the experience – and nearly 1600 at the Icehouse says something for the popularity of these two teams – but a tiny bit of respect goes a long way.

It is disappointing when control cannot be instigated over the crowd, especially after multiple attempts to have the “space” issue sorted.

However, back on the game, and what got me hooked last year is the sportsmanship, team bond and most importantly, the fans.  They are loyal.  I cannot believe how hard the players go at the puck – and when they slam someone into the flexi-glass, they do it with bone-shuddering force you cannot help but recoil for a moment.

After a 2013 season that saw the men in orange come oh so close to finals, the Mustangs are rebounding.  Carson in front of goal was spectacular with his saves – but when the Ice got a fast break, he hesitated.

Games are won and lost on crucial mistakes – but at the same time it is what makes a club that much stronger.

Head Coach Brad Vigon, after the Mustangs dispatched of the Sydney Ice Dogs for the second time in 2014, said the depth was just outstanding.

“You can have one of the best Australian players (Joey Hughes) out of your line-up and still feel confident we’re going to score goals.  Jamie (Bourke) coming back into the line-up this week and bringing in Jeff (Grant) just gives us two more options.”

The Mustangs peppered the goals in the third and last period – more than the Ice – but the Ice defenders repelled almost every attack.  Control of the puck became priority one for both sides.  What was most exciting for myself and the rest of those in the arena was that after the Ice bolted away to a 2-0 lead, the Mustangs grabbed the game by the throat, hungry for a win.

The sport of ice hockey is fast.  It keeps you engaged. Standing in the one corner of the rink, camera to the eye every time the puck and the players approached, I have begun to appreciate the style of play and performances from the players.  When they hit the ice, they look ready.

In the heat of the moment, I forgot about the fans “next door.”  I just focused on my media duties.  But I loved every minute of it.  The music choices add to the positive atmosphere too.

Growth may be stunted, but it is happening.  Saturday’s derby was an impressive display of sportsmanship, defence and attack, and one I was extremely happy to witness.

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