Melbourne Mustangs hattrick hero Scott Timmins celebrates one of his goals with the bench. (Photo: Phil Taylor Photographic/Melbourne Mustangs Facebook; Design: Will Cuckson)

One month of the Australian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) season is already in the books and we have witnessed plenty of great scenes both on and off the ice.

Week three brought us some packed crowds, another derby, drought-breaking wins, superstars returning and maybe even a new rivalry emerging.

The Inner Sanctum looks at five talking points from the weekend.

Vladislav Rachinsky celebrates his goal with the Mustangs bench in front of a packed crowd. (Photo: Phil Taylor Photographic/Melbourne Mustangs Facebook)

The stable is rocking this season

Melbourne Mustangs continued their strong start to the AIHL season with two more wins during week three of the competition, dispatching the Melbourne Ice in the first instalment of the derby, while grinding out an impressive win against defending champions CBR Brave after a shootout.

It is the first time the Mustangs have gone undefeated after four games to start a season since coming into the AIHL in 2011, holding a 3-0-1 record the Mustangs look like a very strong outfit.

Canadian import Scott Timmins is back for his second season and looks to have gone up another notch, grabbing his first hat trick of the campaign against the Ice in a dominant display. The Mustangs have built a strong squad in 2023 and are able to mix and match lines that highlight their depth.

Canadian import Andrew Hamilton celebrates scoring a goal for the Adelaide Adrenaline. (Photo: Hugh Whittle/Adelaide Adrenaline Facebook)

Adrenaline gets off the mark

Adelaide came back into the AIHL this season having not won a competitive match since 2018, however, it was able to break its drought with back-to-back wins against the Central Coast Rhinos on the road.

Forward Andrew Hamilton is leading the way for the Adrenaline, as the Canadian import has six points (five goals, one assist) from four games played. On the local front, young star Nathaniel Benson also has six points (three goals, three assists) after returning from the PHL in 2022.

The Adrenaline has an interesting roster with plenty of talent littered throughout the lines and on the defensive end. It might take some time for the club to settle back into AIHL life, but these first wins might kick-start their season.

Rumblings from above

Who knew that a new expansion team and a returning Goodall Cup finalist would spark so much interest after coming up against each other for the first time in 2023, but that’s exactly what we got from the Perth Thunder and Brisbane Lightning.

Lightning travelled to Perth to take on the Thunder which had a little bit of everything, goals, penalties, powerplay opportunities, and a bit of niggle. Thunder would take the win 5-2 but there was plenty in the contest, highlighted by a fired-up Andrew Cox late in the final period who seemed to have made some type of hand gesture toward the Lightning players.

Could we be seeing a new rivalry emerging?

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Northstars have a whole new look

When the Northstars were able to get players back from national team duties and their imports arrived in Australia, everything was going to change and they would be a whole new proposition in the AIHL.

Big off-season signing Wehebe Darge returned to the lineup, as did Frances Drolet, Ethan Hawes and Riley Tonks who were just a few players that strengthened the squad significantly. It was a tight contest throughout as the Northstars beat the Bears 3-2 with two powerplay goals proving crucial in the win.

A Newcastle outfit with its returning stars is a scary thought for the other nine AIHL teams.

Melbourne Derby crowd in full voice at O’Brien Icehouse Arena. (Photo: Phil Taylor Photographic/Melbourne Mustangs Facebook)

Rivalries bring out the best in the league

On Friday night we witnessed the first Melbourne derby of the season and it once again highlighted how important these games are for the AIHL. It was a packed house at the O’Brien Icehouse Arena with standing room three deep from the glass, and there were plenty of first-time hockey watchers in attendance which is great for the AIHL that marquee games draw in new fans.

We have seen the Battle of Sydney once already this season in what was a terrific atmosphere from both sets of fans, in Melbourne it was no different despite the lopsided scoreline as the Mustangs got one up on their cross-corridor rivals.

Week four of the AIHL will see another Battle of Sydney and the first time two powerhouse clubs Northstars and Brave clash in the nation’s capital in front of what should be another bumper crowd.

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