Puck is dropped in the AIHL between the Central Coast Rhinos and CBR Brave. (Photo: Jess Fuller/AIHL Facebook)

The Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) ticked over week two of the competition and with 14 games played across the opening two weekends the talking points continue to grow.

We have seen 2022 preliminary finalists flex some early season muscle, a new expansion team continue to make waves, the old guard proving age is no barrier and teams that continue to improve.

The Inner Sanctum looks at five things from the weekend’s action.

Sydney Bears forward Thomas Steven in action during the Battle of Sydney. (Photo: Peter Podlaha/AIHL Facebook)

Bears are roaring

The Sydney Bears continue to impress and have made a strong start to the 2023 season, with wins over the reigning Goodall Cup champions CBR Brave and rivals Sydney Ice Dogs in the Battle of Sydney.

After a preliminary final appearance during the 2022 AIHL season, the Bears look hungrier to go one further early on in this campaign. Taking some big scalps, while also travelling across to Adelaide and getting a 6-3 result against the Adrenaline.

Getting strong production from Beverly, Massachusetts native Ace Cowans, and with returning Australian national team players Tomas Landa, Tim Newmark, and Anthony Kimlin, the Bears look the team to beat after the first two rounds.

Julian Fodor of the Brisbane Lightning takes control of the puck. (Photo: Slippery Pixel Photography/Brisbane Lightning Facebook)

New kids on the block

Brisbane Lightning have taken no time settling into full-time life in the AIHL as the new boys of the competition sit top of the Rurak Conference and Lightning players littered throughout the league leader’s board.

While they have played the Central Coast Rhinos three times this season coming away with wins in each contest, the Lightning performed well in Sydney against the Ice Dogs as they went down 8-5.

Not to mention Brisbane has proven it can score and score heavily, while also getting backed up with strong goaltending between the pipes from Steve Harris and Nicolas Novysedlak.

Things are looking positive for the Lightning who will travel to Perth in week three of the season to face the Thunder.

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Age is just a number

Whoever said you were too old never mentioned it to a couple of veterans of the AIHL as the over-40 brigade continue to impress with their performances after week two.

Steve Harris has two shutouts to his name for the Brisbane Lightning after blanking the Rhinos on two occasions, stopping 40 shots across two games played. Harris has shown there is no slowing down for the 44-year-old.

In Sydney 42-year-old Michael Schlamp returned to the Bears for the first time since the 2019 season and hasn’t lost any touch, putting up seven points (one goal, six assists) from just the three games played.

Sleep on the wily old veterans at your peril.

The Dogs are barking

Sydney Ice Dogs are a much-improved team this AIHL season and an overtime loss to the Brave in the nation’s capital is just another indication that their trajectory is heading upwards.

Taking anything away from Phillip Ice Skating Centre hasn’t been easy for the Ice Dogs, it has been six years since their 4-2 win during the 2017 season where they took all the points against the Brave. So a 3-2 overtime loss during matchday three was a great reward for their off-season work and where the club is heading.

With Cameron Todd, Daniel Pataky, and Shannon McGregor all due to return to the Ice Dogs following the World Championships in Spain, the roster will only get better.

Central Coast Rhinos players celebrate a goal in a recent homes series against the CBR Brave. (Photo: Jess Fuller/Central Coast Rhinos Facebook)

In it for the long haul

When looking at the Central Coast Rhinos prior to the 2023 season it was always a feeling of a long-term project to build a strong hockey club once again at Erina Ice Arena.

It hasn’t been a great start for the Rhinos after two weeks of games and with a couple of blowout scorelines, it hasn’t looked pretty. However, with a club that is fighting to sign players with strong established clubs within NSW, it wasn’t going to be an overnight success.

Rookies Connor Wardlaw, Cameron Hughes, and Ivan Doukhovnikov are the future of the Rhinos and the team will look to build the club around the trio, and the wheel will slowly begin to turn in the right direction as they add pieces around them.

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