22/04/2024

AIHL Finals are back as four teams look to become Goodall Cup champions. (Images via Facebook/ CBR Brave; Newcastle Northstars; Sydney Bears; Melbourne Mustangs. Design: Will Cuckson)

After a two-year break the AIHL Finals are back and will be held in Melbourne from September 2-4 at the O’Brien Icehouse Arena across a three-day ice hockey fiesta weekend.

Five months of gruelling hockey, 562 goals and 60 games later, we are now down to the final four teams who will battle it out for the third-oldest ice hockey trophy in the world – the Goodall Cup.

With positions on the ladder now locked away, The Inner Sanctum looks at the teams and the key players across each roster.

Team: CBR Brave

Position: 1st

Against Top Four Teams:

With eight wins and four losses against the other teams in the top four, the Brave is heading into the AIHL Finals as favourites for the cup. Of the teams they will face in the finals, they split a four-game season series with the Sydney Bears.

Key Players:

Casey Kubara – Having a career-best season, Kubara is the standout for the Brave with 52 points (25 goals and 27 assists). His ability to find the back of the net while providing a passing and play-making option will be vital for the Brave heading into the weekend.

Wehebe Darge – 30-year-old Darge is in the prime of his career, the Australian international has been putting up strong numbers all season with 50 points (17 goals, 33 assists) from 17 games. A former AIHL MVP and Goodall Cup champion, Darge is a finals player and knows what it takes to win.

Alex Tetreault – The best goalie for season 2022, Tetreault had a save percentage of .893 from 14 games played. He has been the first-choice goaltender in the nation’s capital and will again be important for the Brave to bring home the Goodall Cup.

Sydney Bears celebrate winning the 2019 Goodall Cup. (Photo: Sydney Bears Facebook)

Team: Newcastle Northstars

Position: 2nd

Against Top Four Teams:

From 12 games this season the Northstars have won eight games and lost four, holding their own against the better teams in the league. They had three losses against the Brave and one to the Bears. That sets up their opening match of the Finals against the Brave as an enticing encounter.

Key Players:

Charlie Smart – With James Downie departing the Northstars just before finals, Smart will find himself as an important part of the Newcastle finals jigsaw. One of the best shot-stoppers in Australia, from six appearances this season Smart has a save percentage of .902 with a goals-against average of 2.95.

Francis Drolet – The Northstars will once again be looking to Drolet to continue the scoring form he has shown all season. With 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) Drolet has always been able to find the net when Newcastle need it most. With great positioning and a sniper mentality, he will be key for the Northstars to win it all.

Robert Malloy – Equally important for the Northstars will be Malloy’s experience and play from the blue line. The 35-year-old Australian international has been in terrific form with 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists), turning back the clock as he looks for a fourth Goodall Cup.

Team: Sydney Bears

Position: 3rd

Against Top Four Teams:

In their 12 games against top-four teams, the Bears have registered five wins and seven losses. Out of those five wins, two of them have come against top-of-the-table CBR Brave. It highlights that the Bears’ best hockey is good enough to beat any team in the AIHL.

Key Players:

Tomas Landa – The 39-year-old is still leading the way for the 3-time Goodall Cup champions. With 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists), he is the leading points scorer for the Bears this season. A lot will rely on the shoulders of Landa in the finals; his experience and hockey IQ will be important to defending their crown.

Alexander Gauthier – A strong presence on the defensive line, the 28-year-old Canadian has been a cornerstone of the Bears’ season. His second stint in the AIHL has seen him putting up career-high numbers with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists). He will need to be at his imposing best if the Bears are to go back-to-back.

Anthony Kimlin – After spending most of the AIHL season out with injury, one of the best goalies in Australia returns at just the right time. Playing the last two games, Kimlin will be a massive boost for the Bears. Kimlin’s experience and leadership will be a confidence lifter for their defensive pairings.

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Team: Melbourne Mustangs

Position: 4th

Against Top Four Teams:

Across the season and from the 12 games played the Mustangs have won three and lost nine against their finals opponents. While struggling against the strong teams in the competition, they have shown that they can compete against them for periods of matches.

Key Players:

Ty Wishart – A monster on the blueline, Wishart has been impressive this season in the AIHL. With 36 points (7 goals, 29 assists) his ability to settle down an offensive rush from the opposition has been important for the Mustangs. His NHL experience could shine through in these AIHL finals.

Scott Timmins – Another Canadian import, Timmins has been terrific on the top line for the Mustangs all season. From 16 games Timmins has 41 points (23 goals, 18 assists) and will need to bring that form against the Sydney Bears. Winning faceoff opportunities and giving the Mustangs first use of the puck will be key to their success.

Brendan McDowell – The captain of the Mustangs is an important part of their system. McDowell plays on a second unit that will need to be at its best to provide relief for Melbourne’s top line. With 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) his game isn’t just points-based. He will need to bring high pressure, intensity and strong checking for the Mustangs to advance.

AIHL Finals kickoff Friday, September 2 at 5 pm

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