Perth Thunder players celebrate during the 2019 Finals the last time they competed in the AIHL. (Photo: PowerPlay Photographics/Perth Thunder Facebook)

For the first time since 2012 the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) will be split in two as previous clubs return following the COVID pandemic and league expansion means we will see an A and B conference system.

Adelaide Adrenaline, Perth Thunder and the Central Coast Rhinos will return to the competition, while the Brisbane Lightning will be making their league debut following successful exhibition games throughout the 2022 season.

With the AIHL season kicking off on April 15 The Inner Sanctum takes a look at each conference.

Melbourne Ice players celebrate a goal in the AIHL. (Photo: Mark Green/Melbourne Ice Facebook)

Melbourne Ice

Last season: 5th

The Melbourne Ice are looking towards a long-term goal when it comes to their squad, with a 10-year plan earmarked as they look to once again build a roster that is capable of challenging for the Goodall Cup.

No import signings have been announced so far but the Ice did make a splash by signing Kerry Goulet as the head coach for the 2023 AIHL season. Players have shifted over from the Melbourne Ducks which include Jamie Bourke, Jack Carpenter, Justin Dixon, Corey Stringer and club legend Lliam Webster just to name a few. Rising star goaltender Thomas Forrest will also make the switch from the Ducks and will be a terrific addition in net beside veteran Michael James.

After finishing second bottom on the AIHL standings in 2022 we should see improvements under Goulet this season.

Melbourne Mustangs

Last season: 4th

After falling short at the first hurdle during the 2022 AIHL Finals the Mustangs will be looking to improve their performance in 2023 after signing Pat McMahon as head coach and locking up key players in the off season.

Chris Lawrence will swap the coaches bench for skates signing on as an on-ice player, Thomas Flack will return for a second stint with the club and Bradley Apps also returns from the Canterbury Red Devils. Canadian goaltender Liam Hughes and New Zealand forward Ryan Ruddle who will move across from the Melbourne Ducks of the now defunct Pacific Hockey League will strengthen squad depth.

Former NHL players Ty Wishart and Scott Timmins both committed to the orange and black for another season and with these high calibre additions returning expectations will once again be high.

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Perth Thunder

Last season: 3rd (2019)

Returning to the AIHL for the first time since 2019 excitement is building at Perth Ice Arena and with some promising off season signings the former Goodall Cup runners-up will be an intriguing watch.

Canadians Tristan Côté-Cazaneva and Anthony Gagnon are both bringing a Quebec connection with each player having played for storied junior club Quebec Remparts with Gagnon being a former captain. Finnish forward Ville Tenosalmi and American center Connor Jean will also suit up for the Thunder, with 37-year-old veteran Nathan Lacasse strapping on the skates again in 2023.

After four seasons off the big stage there are a lot of unknowns with the Thunder this season, but going by their off-season signings we can expect a competitive roster.

Ron Kuprowsky will once again be back behind the Sydney Bears bench. (Photo: AK Hockey Shots/Sydney Bears Facebook)

Sydney Bears

Last season: 3rd

Not much has come out of the Bears in terms of off-season import signings but news of Ron Kuprowsky staying on for another season was welcomed by supporters after a strong 2022 AIHL campaign where they fell just short against the Newcastle Northstars in a preliminary final.

New Zealand forward Thomas Stevens will return to the club for the first time since 2019, after spending time in Sweden over the past two years. Canadian goaltender Dane Brumm looks to have signed for 2023 after getting a shutout during a recent exhibition game against the Central Coast Rhinos, Tomas Landa with a hat-trick shows the 39-year-old isn’t slowing down either.

Expect the Bears to once again be a strong Goodall Cup contender.

Former NHL prospect Stefan Fournier has signed with the Sydney Ice Dogs for the 2023 AIHL season. (Image: Sydney Ice Dogs Facebook)

Sydney Ice Dogs

Last season: 6th

2022 was a season to forget for the two-time Goodall Cup champions as they couldn’t find their groove and found themselves at the foot of the standings after the completion of the regular season.

A new head coach in Jason Kvisie, some key off season signings and things can turn quickly for the Ice Dogs this AIHL season. Three Canadians have committed to the Sydney outfit with forwards Kyle Hunter, Stefan Fournier and defender Brandon Egli signing on. Slovakian defender Samuel Ivanic will also make his way to the Harbour city from Linden Hockey in Sweden.

34-year-old veteran forward Grant Toulmin will also be returning to the Ice Dogs for another season, and young Australian star Dmitri Kuleshov who shined at U20 World Championships will also make the switch from The Coast to suit up for the Ice Dogs.

The Ice Dogs after taking out the wooden spoon in 2022 will be looking to bounce back under new coach Kvisie and they will be looking for a stronger showing in 2023.

Rosters are at time of writing as full squads continue to be announced.

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